History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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The eonic effect and punctuated equilibrium

January 20th, 2009 · No Comments

After chapter 2 of World History And The Eonic Effect, the text begins the analysis of the ‘eonic effect’, to see what we are dealing with and what kind of model can help to elucidate the properties of the mysterious historical/evolutionary system detected.
The material from chapter 3 isn’t online yet but here is one section:

3.5 The Eonic Effect: Punctuated Equilibrium

We have it, the resolution of a dynamic in world history, the eonic effect, in a series of three turning points seen as eonic transitions, or stream and sequence intersections. And we have a remarkable answer to our question, made into a frequency hypothesis, does world history show evidence of general sequence? Please note, however, that this is a description of a non-random pattern, not an explanation of how it works. We can, however, still call this ‘evolution’, and use the data to critique any and all accounts of the descent of man. Thus world history is our reference of last resort in the claims on theory for the descent of man. It is truly a remarkable result, with some very deep structure indeed, such as the ‘discrete freedom sequence’, the double birth of democracy in successive transitions. In the middle of a fuzzy data set we have some almost uncanny timing mechanisms at work.
Our model brought to this data is really no more than the matrix of periodization itself, but we can use this simple outline to explore the hidden dynamics behind our data. We need, of course, to proceed recursively through our eonic sequence to produce at each cycle an expanded version, expanding in equal portions at each stage. One book for TP1, then one for TP2, one for TP3, then start over, each time moving toward the middles, in the logistics of ‘reachability’, … We could, of course, start at TP1 and read all the books for that, zooming in more and more, more and more books, to get to the bottom of the mystery of ‘what caused the birth of civilization’. And that will make us look at more and more books about the period just before TP1 to try and figure out what this cause might be, since the moment ‘just before’ seems to be important for causal explanation. Does it follow? We may never reach our subject matter, the moment before could be the wrong place to look. We have to do a little in one spot, then put a place marker, jump to another spot, and do that for a while, and so on.
We are confronted with the need to zoom in on everything, all at once. It would be safer to ration our energy by making sure we zoom in on the whole by dividing the surface of a planet somehow, and using sampling intervals in time. And then we notice that the eonic pattern forces us to do that, in fact, has already done that for us. That’s suspicious. Nature seems to have the same problem we have, and needs to distribute its input to ‘do evolution’. Soon we will have eight (or more) such restart zones, one book apiece in recursive cycles (?!) The idea is at least a reminder that we rarely examine history at all, and have imaginary pictures of what it’s about. We tend to collapse our historical data in one direction, or subset. Now we see the point of our high-level pattern. It enforces balance. We end up doing the same thing the eonic effect does. In any case, just to observe world history requires systematic efforts, and is not easily accomplished, what to say of theory.
In the process we moved backwards into the Neolithic suspicious our data is explained with a frequency hypothesis, and discover the master clue to our ‘evolution of some kind’, its stream and sequence effect. Look at the Axial period. In five places simultaneously, a cultural stream crosses a (very fuzzy) temporal boundary, intersects with the eonic sequence, and gets ‘hot’, producing a host of innovations. What a neat way to do evolution. The law of normal succession is violated. The clue is to see that this occurs in a greater sequence. We have designed our investigation around a set of balanced points, which can expand together, and we have space for about one reasonably large expansion on our ‘short world history’ in Chapter Five, and we notice that the eonic effect remains stable in any such expansion. The reason is that while our datasets expand and interpretations vary, the basic blocks, using terms like ‘The Classical Greek period’, the ‘core Old Testament period’, the ‘modern’, the ‘Middle Ages’, remain the same, roughly speaking. And they fall into a pattern of general sequence, however explained.
We have a core pattern, the eonic effect, and a frequency hypothesis. And a system with some simple properties:

    Our eonic sequence, probably starting in the Neolithic, but first visible at the birth of civilization.
    A parallel evolution at some but not all of the intermittent steps, e.g. the Axial Age. We see the parallel effect also in the synchronous phase of Sumer and Egypt.
    A stream and sequence effect, which creates what we call ‘eonic transitions’ at each of the steps.
    The stepping transitions show an acorn or frontier effect, that is, each new advance starts in a new area, but one in the vicinity of the old areas of advance. Archaic Greece, and ‘Israel/Judah’ are perfect examples.
    The areas of transition generate fields of sequential dependency, as the new advances spread by diffusion into their immediate exterior creating an oikoumene.

We must remember our relationship to this system in our present, and that is that we are outside the last transition. Since we are saying that the third turning point is the rise of the modern, we are inside its diffusion field and sequentially dependent on that. We must be sure to define our system as non-predictive to preempt the Oedipus Paradox of theory. But our model will do that automatically as the last transition switches off (in what we call a divide) and our ‘free activity’ comes to the fore. Armed with this data we see the clear difference between teleology and directionality. The latter is all we can detect. Teleological philosophies are themselves eonic emergents.
It is important to get a sense of the way we are dealing with relative transformations. Looking at the eonic effect, especially the Axial interval, we see what we can call ‘eonic emergents’, the data that stands out as improbable, and these often look like absolute innovations, but which, on closer examination, often turn out to be amplified relative transformations, spurts of growth, incremental remorphing.

    The sunlamp analogue If we turn on a sunlamp in a garden, we see, not the absolute growth of plants from seeds (although that may occur too), but the relative accelerated growth of those plants. The causal domain is contextual and may show two levels. The sunlamp has nothing to do with the ‘causal stream’ of plant growth processes. In the same way history in and outside of the eonic effect is autonomous and proceeds by its own logic. The eonic effect is built in, yet a distinct process.
    An example: The Old Testament The Old Testament seems inconsistent, on the one hand it suggests monotheism starts with Abraham, or Moses, and then describes an age of revelation, which comes later. This puzzle is resolved at once by the eonic effect, and seeing that ‘monotheism’ undergoes a relative transform in sync with the eonic sequence.

With the eonic effect, this question of relative transformations makes it hard to understand, although the high-level effect is obvious. Something crosses a temporal boundary, goes through changes, and then issues as a new result. These occur all the time, and are not basically mysterious. But our pattern shows some truly remarkable examples, apparently in echoing sequences over millennia. For example, the elements of monotheism or Buddhism existed before the Axial interval, but the prior elements are transformed or swiftly repackaged during the period into the historical forms that we see in history. Thus, it seems, the transformation has no relation to the content, as such. Note that ‘acceleration’ is a relative transform, and, despite the spontaneous yet inaccurate use of the term (from physics) for our transforms (of a system not like anything in physics), it gives some idea of the presence of a ‘forcing factor’ involved in the changes we see. The idea of a ‘forcing factor’ or ‘ghost force’ arises almost by definition in such a system, a fact that will ‘debrief’ a number of theological issues! Such thinking is very loose, however, and terminology to describe such things is borderline at best.
And why is this any different from similar effects at all periods of history? The answer in one way is that there is no difference, and yet we can clearly see that there is a difference. There is no difference in the case of the sun lamp, yet its presence or absence does make a difference. Nothing can match the period of the Archaic and Classical Greeks. This cluster relative to world history allows us to infer, but only indirectly, the existence of something out of the ordinary. Systematic accounting of periods and their relationships resolves the paradox, an unsuspected teleological component, visible as directionality, in particular periods and places, not withstanding their completely ordinary character in all respects. That makes correct system analysis difficult. In some ways, the best approach is simple high-level inspection, disciplining any and all metaphysical resolutions.
Thus, given the data of the eonic effect, a model of Big History appears almost without trying. The reason is that, just as ducks like water, so our historical data is well adapted to this type of model. The eonic model is the next thing to try after flat history fails, and we get lucky right away. Actually, we are already done, and have only to summarize our results: the model is the historical account, its chapter headings. This model has a complication in its two levels, the distinction of system action and free acation:

    Macro-action and micro-action Our pattern is fairly straightforward in many ways, but, as noted, a close look shows a severe complication, but one that is fortunate in another way. We must distinguish between what individuals are doing and what a system is doing, micro-action and macro-action. Sometimes they coincide, especially inside the pattern, sometimes not. Our pattern seems to act on a fuzzy region, is not determined completely, and the way in which individuals express that pattern can vary tremendously. Thus, the element of ‘free action’ must be the executive of the ‘system action’, but the two might not fully correspond. This factor goes a long way toward explaining the confusions of monotheism. The construction of the Old Testament clearly reflects the ‘system action’ during the Axial period of the eonic effect. But the account enters via the mythmaking filter of those who recorded their account. Myth rapidly takes over. This system action or eonic determination is highly elusive, and is observed as a series of eonic emergents.
    An analogy: A ship and passengers To see the distinction of macro-action and micro-action, consider an ocean liner and its passengers. The large scale motion of the ship and the relative free action of the passengers on the boat.

It is useful to consider the strange implications of what we have found. A truly extraordinary number of puzzles join together as one puzzle: issues of the Axial Age, religion, democracy, philosophic history, theories of the rise of civilization, birth of the modern, the mystery of Archaic Greece and the Old Testament, and a host of other questions. We can see that world history shows coherence, directionality, and that this reconciles the paradox of the transition from evolution to history. To see so many independent pieces of evidence interconnected increases the odds against chance in this pattern. Our apparatus of transitions soon yields to ‘understanding by coherence’ as the meaning of history begins to emerge, and our scaffolding yields to the particular after its bout with the universal.

    Punctuated equilibrium Although we should be wary of the term, since it has already been used by Darwinists in a different sense, we can see that our pattern corresponds almost perfectly to something we might call ‘punctuated equilibrium’, using the dictionary meanings of the words. We see three punctuations interspersed with equilibria. ‘Disequilibrization’ would work as well since our punctuations are stirring the history stream out of equilibrium into an active state. Having made our point, we will discontinue use of the phrase from now on.
    Levels of selection Ironically, one of the concerns of Darwinists in exploring punctuated equilibrium was the issue of ‘levels of selection’. We can see that the eonic sequence operates at the level of selection of whole time-slices of cultural streams!

Our use of ‘discontinuity’ was descriptive, although it seems to suggest something ‘switching’ at regular intervals. In one way, it is like raising contrast in a gray photograph, suddenly the picture stands out. We must be careful here and not speculate. All we can say is that data that fits this method of discontinuous periodization is operating on two levels. The deeper level we never see. No matter how hard we try we will never through increased data ‘see’ that deeper level. The smile of the Cheshire cat is just fading away as we zoom in or out. We can elaborate at length on what we have, but we are essentially done. The strangeness of the result springs we can guess from the hidden teleology of a system that operates on a global scale. All we see is the ‘change of direction’, directionality, as a smoke detector for some teleology.
It should be called ‘the’ pattern for there is only room for one elephant, so to speak, and this pattern, apart from its extraordinary character, is also the most ordinary and obvious answer to the quest for such a constellation. This does not preempt whatsoever the possibilities of other independent cultural evolutions, other patterns, or causal studies of independent processes, such as the history of technology or economy. Far from it, the very nature of this pattern, by its intermittency, operates as a series of relative transformations on a greater whole whose independent motions are a given.
The difference between ‘the’ pattern, and ‘a’ pattern can be controversial indeed, in the sense of ideological issues. Recall our statements about two universal histories. We have made this safe from ideologues, up to a point. Be wary however. Our two levels answer to this issue directly. The highest directs traffic, the broader level is the stuff of human history. The master sequence pushes us to new heights but in and of itself does nothing. We can both adopt the stance of science yet at the same time affirm our thesis as ‘advisory’, rather than final. Note however the irony, that this result is actually a full challenge to Darwin’s claim on the descent of man. We can explore the result. The point is that we operate on the assumption of something like ‘flat history’. A careful examination of the data shows that assumption to be very dubious, however strange the alternative.
The pursuit of patterns of universal history has gone on and on, yet within the space of a few pages we have the result, a pattern of world history, and, whatever the difficulties, a very strong result, almost without trying, using plain vanilla historical blocks, sometimes merely changing labels, e.g. medieval extended to become ‘mideonic’. We succeeded because we stayed out of trouble with causal reductionism and made the critique of such our starting point.

Tags: selections · World History and The Eonic Effect

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