The Dynamics of Evolution: What Complexity Theory Suggests for Big History's Approach to Biological and Cultural Evolution

Author: Baskin, Ken
Almanac: Evolution:Evolution and Big History: Dimensions, Trends, and Forecasts


The twentieth century science, from physics to neurobiology, redefined our understanding of the world, overturning the linear worldview of Newtonian physics for a more dynamic image. Especially as illuminated by complexity theory, this worldview suggests a conception of evolution in which phenomena adapt to each other, at many scales, embedded in a continually expanding universe of interconnected agents. Given this conception, human culture has evolved to adapt to changing conditions which, thus far, have generated a social world whose complexity has increased to serve a larger, more technologically advanced, more highly interconnected population. To demonstrate this conception of evolution, one can examine the Axial Age and Modernity as cultural ‘phase transitions’, periods of experimentation punctuating periods of relative stable social structures. Such an examination offers an insight into the potential for Big History to contribute to solutions of the many challenges that call for innovative adaptations across our world.

Keywords: relational evolution, world story, Axial Age, Modernity.