History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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The question of history…and evolution

January 9th, 2018 · No Comments

This is a draft of an introduction for a new book, since discontinued, attempting to probe the difficulties many have in approaching the eonic effect…

The Question of History
The question of history resists the codification of science and remains an outcast of reductionist scientism. This might lead us to abandon the hopes of a science of history in terms of narrow definitions of what we term science, if what we mean is the progeny successor to the core physics, the Newtonian moment. But this great achievement is in reality a clumsy instrument for the study of the historical due to the ambiguity of the question of free agents.

Issues of free agents are bound up in the question of free will but we require no absolute stance on that question to be clear that agency is the crux of any story and we never tell tales in terms of causal events referring rather to the activities of persons of interest. The question of will, free or not, emerges in the realm of the optative mood, and this is indifferently causal in its action. We may negate free will but we may not banish verbs in optative moods or the regions and action of choice in the brain. In the same way we can proclaim computers causal machines, but we cannot deny that a computer with ‘mouse input’ is a larger superset as [brain, machine} and that the choices of a brain ‘determine’ the causal sequences of the device.
This question is in part resolved if we consider it in the context of evolution which is also problematic as a science in relation to physics, for we see in the emergence of organisms, then the animal, the intermediate ground between passive causal ‘things’ and the animated behavior of the ‘creature’. And this precipitates the notion of the ‘evolution of freedom’ as a category, for in the succession of emergent ‘beasts’ higher degrees of freedom are visible in the progression of forms, and this is the case regardless of our stance on the question of ‘free will’. We are left with a suspicion that the question of evolution, next to that of history, is also recalcitrant as to its status as science if only because no such science as yet exists. At a time when the mechanisms of natural selection are under assault as science we must be very careful about claims for random emergence. These questions can easily fool us.
The question of free will is the object of a very prolonged debate, one confounded with the onset of quantum mechanics. Much mystical hankering has attended the claim that this outcome of modern physics disproves determinism, but the point reamains unclear. But before the strictures of causal physics were a sort of absolute, only to become now, as noted, unclear. It would seem that we cannot disallow free will thus, and in any case a question of scale enters to make the ambiguity all the worse: the issues of decoherences and the transition to the large scale recycle the dilemma.
We may at least note that the progressions of physics from Newton to string theory indicate an incomplete subject matter, leaving the issue moot. Let us suspect given very simple models of dimensionality the questions of ‘will interacting across material barriers reenter the question as at least good science fiction. Beside this the distinction of the noumenal and the phenomenal in related fashion donates a realm beyond space and time for the moment of decision, its outcome becoming indeed a causal event after the fact. There again it seems an imperialistic gesture of scientism to proceed so dogmatically on a subject that since the time of the philosopher Kant is seen as metaphysical. And that remarkable successor to Kant, Schopenhauer, actually positted a connection of the ‘thing in itself’ to the ‘Will’ in Nature, a claim we must carefully consider.
But at the least we have the ‘story’ and its agents, the subjects of plots, and the objects of natural events in the saga. Stories are supposed to have a beginning, middle and end, but there seems to be no absolute reason for this: ‘reality’ as physics seems to lack a story, although the sequence, ‘big bang to big crunch’ seems to leave a middle to a plotless plot but a potential sphere for evolution, which seems to quickly concentrate to a ‘story’, all the world’s a stage, if you can find any actors. The story of ‘man’ is a very late chapter and we confronted with the mystery of the emergence of homo sapiens, so-called, and are forced to take as given a very large number of enigmas with respect to his/her entry onto the planetary stage.
Big History
It is remarkable, and remarkably hard for standard evolutionary theories to explain, that the emergence of an intelligent hominid could occur so rapidly, in the process bestowing this successor to homo erectus with language, mind, a new consciousness, a creative aesthetic, and a sense of the soul. We may well find an earlier stepping stone to this in the predessor species, spawning the Neanderthal, but the overall pace of the transition is closer to the claims for punctuated equilibrium than the slow random change posited by Darwinists. We should be clear that much of the debate is quite beside the point in the absence of a factual foundation. But the rough sketch suggested by the fossil record, such as it is, yield an approximate portrait of a relatively rapid passage to a new ‘man’, followed by a plateau existence in a definite if incomplete speciation.
In one scenario we have the new species of ape, man, in a diaspora from Africa, crossing into Asia in some interval after 100K BC. However obscure the details it makes sense to consider that a new species should emerge in isolation in the hotbed of Africa, crossing a threshold of species-level transformation, and then via its global exile via the Horn of Africa achieving a globalization of the new evolutionary breakthrough in the relative steady state of a new species. We must be wary of speculation but the evidence for some kind of macroevolution followed by microevolution is on the balance shown by the data we have, and by deductions from the relative acceleration given in evidence.
The use of the distinction ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ is highly controversial but it is little more than a restatement of S.J.Gould’s idea of the punctuated equilibrium with the punctuations being the ‘macro’ aspect and the ‘equilibrium’ being the ‘micro’. This theoretical concept raises a difficult question, what ‘causes’ the macro action? the indirect evidence for which contradicts the standard account of slow evolution. However obscure this point the fact remains that the transformation into homo sapiens could not conceivably have been piecemeal, the whole operation suggesting someting more like a software upgrade than a piecemeal process of random mutations. True, much including language in some form must have been prefigured in homo erectus, but there again the suspicion of an earlier fast transtion is strong, in an earlier timeframe of millions of years. And all the innovations show an interconnected aspect that beggars the usual attempts to consider what gene might have triggered language. Chomsky
And the question of language, complicated enough, stands in direct relation to the larger question of consciousness, mind/brain, and these in turn prefigure that compexity of the man of the Paleolithic showing a sense of the spiritual, the esthetic, and of the euphoria of a transformed brand of self-awareness that will resurface ever again the subsequent saga. Here analysis is hampered by the unity of creature and scientist, and in this wonderland of the first Alice it is logically deducible that the first creature might have had a degree of awareness lost to the later scientist despite a low level of knowledge. This raises the question of the nature of self-consciousness and here an intra-species equality of potential realized or unrealized stalks the birth of the first ‘buddhas’. It is of interest that Wallace, the co-discoverer of evolutionary theory, considered the limits of the Darwinian view just here, in the potential or man, not just his actual state. For it seemed as if nature had bestowed man with far more than he needed for a starting point definition of man as man, as if the plot in embryo carried a latent future to be realized over the course of the millennia to come.
The evolution of man remains a mystery because we have not really observed the facts of the case. In fact, as we gaze backwards into deep time we assume that because we have an approximate record over tens of millions of years we can easily proceed from observing the fact/facts of evolution to a statement of the mechanism involved. And this remains true of the question of man’s evolution even after we map out the rough blocks of successive earlier species from australopithecus onward. It is here ironically that the study of history might help us to close in on a basis for a theory of evolution.

World history as the history of homo sapiens has already bequeathed a unique record with the invention of writing as a fine-grained portrait of a global autobiography of this species. And this record endows our remarks about randomness with an empirical record of the non-random. This pattern is a kind of smoking gun and forces us, if not to some conclusive theory, then at least to a wariness about the reigning dogmas of ‘flat history’. For we see, as if to detect from afar a rustling in the bushes as evidence of some particular event that draws our attention with an implicit question about its cause. It could be the result of a sudden breeze, a bandit in hiding, we know not what. In general our perceptions run to a uniform backdrop of which we take little notice, but some event our of the ordinary draws our gaze because it is non-random. This is the analog to an historical phenomenon that we begin to notice as we collate historical data, and at a level of a continuous chronicle, or at least a tale at the level of centuries, for some areas at least of the global continuum. This record is still incomplete. no doubt, but to a large degree, with the onset of writing, we have many sectors of the archaeological record given in some detail.
The invention of writing has a complex history of its own, but we can see that it appears in two places, early Sumer and Egypt toward the end of the fourth millennium. The result is that we have, for example, a list of the principle Pharoahs from that time onward. In general we can begin to map out rough blocks of what we call ‘civilizations’, where before it would be hard to detect such entities, to say nothing of the onset of literatures derived from oral traditions of the most ancient lineage. A classic example is the appearance of written versions of Greek epic poetry, passing from the traditions of bards into the written form, in the works of Homer. Note that the early Greeks considered this indifferently not only poetry but history.
As the record of history begins to accumulate, we are left with about five millennia of ‘history’ (from, say, 3000BCE to 2000AD) in the sense of documented intervals, still far from global, that chronicle whole civilizations in tandem. Men in the stone age, and creatures in deep time, left no such record and it is difficult to make out the detail. What is worse, this is unnerving and we begin to suspect our statements about evolutionary causality might be untrustworthy, given that we hardly have records at fine-grain. Biologists of the darwinian brand assure us that ‘evolution’ occurs by natural selection, but these are statements about immense intervals of time that have no true record in continuous time. How do we know, beside the safer inference that ‘evolution’ did in fact occur, that whales evolved from their primordial ancestor on land by natural selection? We don’t.
This is a gateway to a new way to study world history: we observe a clue to the mystery of evolution in history itself: a non-random pattern. It is ironic that the two periods we have cited, for the invention of writing and the era of the Homeric corpus are correlated with the so-called Axial Age. As we examine the issue of history we discover a fine-grain structure which we can summarize in two aspects:
the data of the Axial Age
the mysterious evidence of an epochal cyclicity

With these two clues we can transform our understanding of history, and in the process get a suspicious sense of where we are going wrong in our attempts to find coherence in our gaze at the past…

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