The nature of evolution

World Futures 65 (3):204 – 221 (2009)
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Abstract

Science, and with it our understanding of evolutionary processes, is itself undergoing evolution. The evolutionary framework still most frequently used by the general public to describe and guide processes of societal development is erroneously grounded in Darwinian perspectives or, at the very least, draws facile analogies from biological evolution. The present inquiry incorporates fresh insights on the general systemic nature of developmental dynamics from the most recent advances in the transdisciplinary realm of the sciences of complexity (e.g., general evolution theory, cybernetics, information and communication theory, chaos theory, dynamical systems theory, and nonequilibrium thermodynamics). The description of the evolutionary trajectory of complex dynamical systems as irreversible, periodically chaotic, and strongly nonlinear agrees with certain features of the historical processes of societal development. But there are additional features of the evolutionary dynamic of natural systems that are seldom portrayed as part of human developmental deportment. These features include elements such as the convergence of existing systems at progressively higher levels of organization, the increasingly efficient utilization of environmental energy, and the complexification of system structures in states that are progressively further removed from chemical and thermodynamic equilibria. The sciences of complexity offer insight into the laws and dynamics that govern the evolution of complex systems across a variety of disciplinary areas of investigation. Through a study of the isomorphisms across disciplinary constructs in the theoretical analyses of the principles governing the evolution of human societies, it is possible to enrich the account of developmental dynamics at the socio-civilizational level. Such an account would further our understanding of the phenomenon of societal development and provide the means for the purposeful guidance of this phenomenon in accordance with general evolutionary principles. This article sets forth the type of considerations, and outlines a general research agenda, for inquiry toward an operational model of the evolutionary development of social systems.

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