3. Descent Of Man Revisited   

 
 
Climbing Mt. Improbable: The Eonic Effect

  

Section 3 .1




 
World History 
And The Eonic Effect

Civilization, Darwinism, And Theories of Evolution
4th Edition
The Book
By  John Landon

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 CHAPTERS:
 

 

 
 

 
3. Descent Of Man Revisited 
     3.1 Climbing Mt. Improbable: The Eonic Effect  
        3.1.1 An Evolution Formalism and The Eonic Model 
     3.2 History and Evolution: A Paradox  
        3.2.1 Huxley's Contradiction and Evolution #1 and #2 
        3.2.2 Deconstructing Flat History  
        3.2.3 Conflict Theories: Incredulity Toward 'Infranarratives' 
     3.3 An Unexpected Challenge to Darwinism  
        3.3.1 The Great Explosion   
        3.3.2 Measures of Evidence Density  
        3.3.3 A Photo Finish Test 
     3.4 From Fisher's Lament to Kant's Challenge 
        3.4.1 A Certain Strangeness: Beyond Space and Time? 

NOTES 
     3.5 A New Model of History: Eonic Evolution  
        3.5.1 A Gaian Matrix: Detecting A Global System  
        3.5.2 Stream and Sequence, Transition and Oikoumene
        3.5.3 An (Eonic) Outline of History
        3.5.4 World Line of The Eonic Observer

  

Next: 
 4. Idea For A Universal History

 
  
        

    World History And The Eonic Effect: Fourth Edition

   3.1 Climbing Mt. Improbable: The Eonic Effect 

 

Looking backward, world history shows the unexpected evidence of a non-random pattern, one that we should naturally call ‘evolution’. We simply assume the flow of world history follows random logic, conditioned as we are by Darwinism. Yet the rapid growth of archaeological knowledge since the nineteenth century is moving to falsify this assumption and has greatly expanded our views of the emergence of civilization and, significantly, crossed a threshold of five thousand years, the bare minimum interval, we are about to see, for grasping the logic of historical evolution. Such a non-random process is the clue to something going on at a deeper level. The pattern itself suggests a developmental sequence of self-organization at work, something that is ‘climbing Mt. Improbable’. Indeed, we should call this ‘evolution’. This ‘evolution’, on reflection, must be connected in some fashion to earlier stages of human evolution. A non-random pattern on this scale shows us something missing in Darwinian thinking and falls into the category of ‘evolution’, ‘evolution of some kind’, with a question, What is the meaning of evolution?

We can easily prove the point by simply laying out a careful timeline. World history since the invention of writing shows an exact systematics, often down to the decade, an unnerving warning about earlier periods with less data. If we examine this pattern of developmental emergence and connect its timeline with man’s earlier evolution, we realize that they must be connected. We are suddenly suspicious that a process like what we see in world history is present, but invisible in the earlier phases of human evolution. We begin to suspect that we need a ‘centuries-level standard’, evidence at very close range to detect what is really driving evolution. 

 Paleolithic Current evidence distinguishes anatomically and behaviorally ‘modern’ man, the first appearing ca. 200,000 years ago, the second in the period after -100,000, with the remarkable threshold, often called the Great Explosion, somewhere between -100,000 to -50,000, associated we are to suppose with various ‘Out of Africa’ scenarios. Darwinists are determined to ignore this phenomenon, but the evidence makes no sense as slow evolution.

Was there a ‘Great Explosion’? The evidence points to a sudden crossing of a threshold. Once we see our historical pattern in action this sudden passage begins to make sense, because we can see that something more than natural selection is operating in a relatively short period of time, possibly in intervals of five to ten thousand years. We see, in any case, that world history is an instance of a ‘great explosion’, the rapid emergence of civilization over ten millennia. We strongly suspect this ‘evolution of civilization’ is related to the earlier evolution of man.

At the very least in the debates over fast and slow evolution, we seem forced to conclude that many of the behavioral characteristics of a new species appear quickly. Both slow and fast evolution are occurring overlaid, please note. But these periods of rapid emergence are completely beyond the range of our emerging historical standard, the ‘centuries level’, and we can only wait for further research to confirm or falsify this emerging but fuzzy picture of the suspiciously sudden appearance of homo sapiens. The obvious resemblance of the phenomenon of the so-called Great Explosion to the eonic effect leaves an immediate question mark for Darwinian claims, or plaintive hopes, that some lucky mutation suddenly appears to accompany the seeming fait accompli of a hominid so accomplished in language, art, religion, and the elements of ‘technical ingenuity’ that will transform the nature of cultural evolution. As we study the eonic effect, we will begin to see what we are probably missing. We suddenly realize we have a demonstration of how the earlier rapid evolution might have occurred!

The Neolithic A relatively static period ensues until, in the interstices of the various Ice Age rhythms, human cultural evolution begins to take off with the discovery of agriculture. Man emerges from the Paleolithic and by sometime around -8000 we see the Neolithic underway. Our non-random process probably begins, or restarts here, but even this early Neolithic still fails our ‘centuries level’ test. This is the true beginning of ‘civilization’, in the progression, village, town, city, and we arrive at the emergence of complex states, often called the ‘rise of civilization’. It is probably in this era, incidentally, that we are to find the birth of ‘religion’ in the later sense of what we see as the ‘world religions’. Five thousand years separate the onset of the Neolithic and the rise of higher civilization. We are drawn to a distinction between the ‘discovery of agriculture’, a technological advance, one that may or may not have happened independently several times, and the crystallizing cultural formations that transform Paleolithic man as he enters into an entirely new stage of social evolution. And this is related to the fact that the prime focus of the Neolithic lies in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East . In fact, the remarkable technological complexity of irrigation societies that we see in the coming world of the Sumerians is already an advanced descendant of these earlier advances.  

A Non-random Pattern Now we come to the remarkable pattern that we will call the eonic effect, visible since the invention of writing: three periods in a row of rapid transition, equally spaced, inside the slower current of world history, relatively static by comparison. We can see world civilization divide into three epochs driven at the start by rapid advance. Three complex transitions ca. 2400 years apart fret the whole of world history. This pattern is a complete giveaway: it shows an exact developmental sequence of a special kind in a series of selected regions that demonstrate ‘transitions’ to a new stage of civilization. These areas then advance the whole by diffusion.

Mystery ‘Force X’ We commented before on the necessity to consider the ‘force of evolution’, in any sense, and our pattern betrays such a ‘force’ (we may not use that word) very directly. Careful accounting of time-periods shows us almost by definition the mysterious ‘evolutionary driver’ operating behind the scenes, visible in the clear sequence of sudden surges of advance. It is probable we are missing the earlier stages of this in the Neolithic.

Rise of higher civilization Suddenly around the end of the third millennium we see what is conventionally called the ‘rise of (higher) civilization’ in the dramatic, and synchronous emergence of the Sumerian and Egyptian complexes. Note the confusing way that two mainlines appear in parallel, a phenomenon we will see frequently, especially in the next so-called Axial Age. These two civilizations cross a threshold into a stage of higher social complexity, indicated by the scale of their social and political formation. They will prove the dynamic sources for millennia in the oikoumenes or diffusion fields that they generate. We had thought that this was an ad hoc advance based on contingent factors as described in the various unsuccessful theories attempting to explain the phenomenon (e.g. Toynbean ‘challenge and response’). But in fact we detect an element of timing in a process that has a mysterious ‘scheduling’ or cyclical period, the clue to some kind of developmental sequence in the large. Notable among a host of innovations is the invention of writing, the beginning of the historical record, and here we detect the beginnings of our non-random pattern. Three times in a row we will see this phenomenon of three or so centuries of sudden advance, the achievement of a plateau that is never matched by its immediate successors which are relatively static or even moving into ‘medieval’ decline. Nothing in this gainsays prior slow development. Slow and fast evolution are both the case, overlaid. But the sudden jump to a new social formation has always been a puzzle, and we will see that to our surprise the timing is non-random. Here is where we find the resolution of the Axial paradox. The Axial Age is simply the next in our series of such sudden jumps, transitions, or turning points. But it adds a new twist: sudden development is a series of parallel transitions across Eurasia (a close look shows a similar effect in the previous case, Sumer and Egypt).

Transition 1 We are really talking about the emergence of complex forms of the State. This occurs in the centuries before and around -3000, and we have the invention of writing, and the sudden onset of two classic advanced civilizations, Dynastic Egypt and the world of Sumer. Two (relative) starts in parallel. This period is conventionally described as the ‘rise of civilization’, although the slow transition, village, town, city that defines the Neolithic is all too obviously an earlier stage of gestating ‘civilization’. But a new threshold of human social complexity clearly comes into existence very rapidly at the end of the third millennium BCE. This could be seen as ‘state formation’. This initial burst of advances rapidly becomes fixed in place until the next phase. Nothing can quite match the creative phase of early Sumerian city-states, and the large oikoumenes generated show the drift into empire formation that characterizes the coming centuries. The world of Egypt produces its theocratic state and then remains almost frozen in place for two millennia. This transitional period generates an immense diffusion field across Eurasia , and we can clock the rise of complex states almost in proportion to distance and time in the wake of this phase: the Indic and Chinese systems are underway within a millennium. This period is still a bit murky, just on the threshold of our centuries-level test. We can see that slow and fast evolution are reconciled in practice. Both are true. And we realize why we are unclear how to refer to the ‘rise of civilization’. It has been rising since the Neolithic. We are referring to the sudden transition that takes place in our eonic series. This point becomes clearer as we examine the next phase, the Axial Age.

Transition 2 The next rapid burst is the so-called Axial Age, from around -900 to -400, the period from -900 to -600 being the real generative period. Around a center of gravity ca. -600 we have the beginnings of our classical traditions, the world of the Greeks, the core Old Testament and its Prophets, the world of Buddha and Confucius. We see independent sourcing areas suddenly undergoing transformation in synchronous timing. From this period springs the constellation of great traditions that lay the foundations not only for ‘western’ civilization, but the civilizations of India , China. The Axial Age can be confusing because of its wide dispersion of effects from Rome to China. But this is because we think in terms of ‘civilizations’ while our pattern respects and acts only in relation to short intervals of action, and their subsequent diffusion fields. The areas that respond in Axial phenomenon already lie in the wake of the diffusion field from the first transition.

The phenomenon of the Axial Age is so spectacular and occurs at such high speed, within ca. three centuries, that our confidence in earlier theories about human or other evolution plummets. The Axial Age shows a series of independently parallel emerging zones of advance.

The diversity of the Axial Age is remarkable and we see not only the birth of two world religions, but of the world’s first democracy, and the first Scientific Revolution in Greece. We cannot ascribe this phenomenon to slow evolution. There are no sociological antecedents that can explain this phenomenon, the more so as it is independently emerging in unconnected regions simultaneously.

Note that the Israelites had a sense of this phenomenon, but localized to their own cultural world. The confusion of emergent theism and historical transformation has made it difficult for us to discuss the question of the Axial Age, since it is (not surprisingly) confused with an ‘age of Revelation’. We should note that the Israelites were reluctant to speak of divinity, preferring abstractions such as IHVH. We must confront the fact that a sense of design arises in relation to the phenomenon of the Axial Age. But on reflection and close examination we begin to see that the sense of design yields to the sense of a complex system at work, one of evolutionary potential.

This period reaches a plateau, as innovation becomes less intense, and in fact many of the innovations die out as this period wanes rapidly and we enter period of the Occidental Roman Empire and its long decline, followed by what we call the Middle Ages. 

We could almost guess the next step in the series. The only period that resembles the Axial transition is the sudden rise of the modern.

Transition 3 It is the realization that modernity is connected to all this that is the surprising fitting together of the last piece of the puzzle of world history. Thus, once again quite suddenly we see the remarkable rise, with uncanny timing, of the modern world, a great take-off about 1500. This is not the same as the so-called Renaissance, nor is it slow evolution from the Middle Ages (which is present in any case). In three centuries starting in the sixteenth century the world system is transformed and reaches a new level of civilization and cultural organization. It seems as if many of the processes of the Axial period suddenly revive and echo in the modern transition: another rise of science, another democratic revolution. All at once we realize that the progression from the Axial period into a protracted medievalism, followed by the sudden rise of the modern world, is no accident. It is part of the precise timing of our mysterious pattern. We have become hopelessly confused by the question of Eurocentrism and so-called ‘Western Civilization’ in discussions of the modern world. But as we study the eonic effect as a whole we will discover its various properties, among them a kind of ‘frontier effect’, whereby each of our transitions moves to the exterior frontier of its prior diffusion. The confusions of Eurocentrism are a distraction. We see that our pattern exploits a transition region for its renewal, and always from the fringes of its previous action, the obvious explanation for the Euro-centered transition area. The emergence of modernity at the fringes of Eurasia is thus a side effect of the overall pattern. The period from 1500 to 1800 is the crucial transitional interval, a claim that clarifies at one stroke the confusions of historical dynamics mixed with modern/postmodern distractions. We should note that each of our transitions occurs in a staging area, whence its effect spreads by diffusion in a process of globablization. The Euro-centered staging area of modernity is thus explained by its place in our eonic series, along with the remarkable insight that historical evolution is occurring on two levels, in a global process that acts on the whole via a series of local parts.

 This mysterious drumbeat hides an unsuspected dynamism and answers directly to the enigma of the evolution  of human civil existence in a series of discrete  periods. We have used the term ‘punctuation’ for a reason: the phenomenon gives us an almost perfect representation of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, and shows us a genuine instance of some form of ‘macroevolution’, if we can understand the relationship of history and evolution. In fact, ‘punctuated disequilibrization’ might also describe the phenomenon, since the effect is to rouse a steady state into a dynamic one. This usage of the term ‘punctuated equilibrium’ has little to do with prior definitions, so we could take the term as if coined from scratch. It shows what a real ‘punctuated equilibrium’ process is like in an actual instance seen at close range.

A closer look, in the arduous inquiries at deeper zoom levels, reveals the need to revise assumptions of historical continuity with a balanced conception of discontinuity. These discontinuities are unmistakable and are especially clear in the period ca. -900 to -600 of the extraordinary synchronous emergence of the classical traditions. Suddenly, in China , India , the Middle East and Greece, the forms of culture undergo a cultural acceleration  in a synchronous parallelism that is quite mysterious. Everything seems done in a flash. The world of Classical Greece flowers, and, like an apparition, the moment is gone. Israel sees its age of the Prophets, the Exile, and the emergence of a new religious matrix. In India and China, we find the same, in a period that produces the seminal foundations for a whole era. For centuries to come men look back at this era. The monuments of the earlier age of Egypt and Mesopotamia fall into oblivion and disappear in sand. The discontinuity is not a gap, far from it, it is a clustering of innovations, a packed field of sudden creative advances over a brief interval of history.

A Strategy of Globalization Our pattern can be confusing at first, but on reflection makes complete sense: it moves in parallel and redundant failsafe streams, which become multiple in the Axial Age, to embrace diversity, then the process contracts at the end in the modern transition, obviously because imminent globalization requires a single focus. This pattern shows a clear strategic element.

 This synchronism began to be observed in the nineteenth century, but has failed to become well known, for the nature of its dynamic is difficult to pinpoint, and it controversially forces us to revise our views of the Great Religions. This reluctance to see the Axial effects is not surprising, since we are talking about fields of free activity that show structure over a period of centuries, a seeming contradiction. But the evidence can’t be denied. This synchronism implies the discontinuous temporal phase is the crucial determinant, independently of any continuous runway leading to the sudden flowerings of individual areas. Causal continuity is clearly violated. It is hard to reconstruct, let alone visualize, the correct sequence of emergence. We see the peaks stand out, great religious founders, art, philosophers, new political forms, then a distinct fall-off. But the overall picture is clear. Its implications indicate that cultural evolution  is, so to speak, hyper-cultural in a generalized system of evolutionary emergence, an extraordinary fact, and the one great clue to evolution in action.

The modern transition: a model It is useful to consider the modern example, which is fully visible in detail, as a model for the earlier transitions. We see that a statistical region of three centuries expresses an intermittent action that ratchets to a new level of culture. This three-centuries interval has a conclusion, or ‘divide’ point, clearly visible in the modern case. This modern example can help us to understand what is happening in the previous cases.

It has often been noticed, as in this instance, that the record of human history shows a strange patchwork of fast advances, and slower periods that are relatively static. This fact alone should alert us to the existence of historical dynamism. Our use of the term ‘medieval’ is quite revealing in this regard. We call the period from the fall of the Roman Empire until modern times a ‘middle age’. This ‘middleness’ is a clue to how we in fact take our own history, not quite sure why, although we can see that the source of this earlier world lies in the onset of the classical age, many centuries before. This era rose to a height that was never matched until after 1500. The same relationship is now visible in the era prior to this, at the birth of complex civilization. The obvious suggestion is that discrete  and continuous processes are blended in the context of a macrohistorical system, if we can define it. We will use the term ‘mideonic’ to refer to the intervals in full between our turning points.

 The rise of civilization from the Neolithic takes place quickly around the end of the fourth millennium, in Egypt and Sumer. This is followed by the long eras that characterize these distinct forms of culture, more or less set in their pattern. Then, in the centuries just before -600 we find civilization on the move again, this time, as noted, in a broad field of rapid parallel advance. Another period of take-off this time in widely separated areas, suddenly transforms the whole basis of civilization. Then finally the rise of the modern shows its hand as the next descendant in this suddenly obvious series. But the spottiness of the pattern is not at first amenable to any simple explanation, in part because we have no prior grounds of explanation at all.

The worlds of Archaic Greece, the Hebrew Prophets, the Upanishadic era of India, and the centuries before Confucius in China suddenly emerge simultaneously. From this we can infer the presence of a larger system doing cross-sections, one on a scale greater than its manifestations as individual civilizations. It is hard to imagine how this could be until suddenly we notice the coordination of this system over millennia. It defies all odds of being random, and finds its oddities from the inherent nature of large-scale culture evolving on the surface of a planet.

We are confronted with a strange pattern, obviously incomplete, and no doubt sourcing in the Neolithic or before, whose real symptoms are clearest at the sources of our traditions. Thus, if we consider this classical era in detail, it becomes evident that it represents a phase in a greater sequence. The birth of civilization, and the rise of the modern world, for three centuries after the Reformation, show the same absolute high-speed emergentist structure in phase, and are clearly related in an overall dynamic of such transition al phases. These three periods, and only these, show this ‘order of magnitude’ explosion, although the genesis of Islam comes close. This does not include the period after 1800, or license any ideological conclusion some might derive from our purely theoretical argument. Beside this parallelism, then, the long sequence of civilization begins to reveal as a whole this overall hyper-cultural generative structure. Thus we can see, in addition, the inner coherence of all of these periods as a unified system whose realizations we call ‘civilizations’.

In summary, world history since the invention of writing suddenly stands in contradiction to all basic assumptions about random evolution. This pattern can be seen from two aspects:

1. The first is of the so-called Axial Age, the enigmatic synchronous emergence of cultural innovations and advances across Eurasia in the period of the Classical Greeks and early Romans, the Prophets of Israel, the era of the Upanishads and Buddhism in India, and Confucius in China. This data shows us that an ‘evolutionary something’ stands behind the emergence of complex forms of culture, is global in scale, and operates over an interval of several centuries to redirect the course of civilization.

2. The second, related to the first, is of a drumbeat sequence of punctuations or transitions proceeding down a mainline of the diversity of civilizations. Looking at the Axial phenomenon we are forced to consider that it is part of a larger pattern, and is a step in a sequence. Moving backwards and forwards we suddenly discover the full pattern. These punctuation points are, remarkably, equally spaced, with an interval of about 2400 years, evidence of a cyclical phenomenon. We thus have three turning points or transitions several centuries in length which we can call ‘turning points or transitions 1, 2, 3’, or TP1, TP2, TP3.

Transition 1 The birth of the state, appearance of writing, onset of Dynastic Egypt, and Sumer, first higher civilizations,…

Transition 2 The Axial Age, from China to Greece/Rome. Onset of two or more world religions in India and Israel, multiple sources of philosophy, birth of science, Greek democracy,…

Transition 3 Rise of modernity, onset of Reformation, secularism , English, French, American Revolutions, Enlightenment, another scientific revolution, another birth of democracy, Industrial Revolution,…

Suddenly, we have a clear holistic interpretation of world history in the form of a non-random pattern behind us in the chronicle of known history. It is non-random in the way it demonstrates an intermittent clustering of creative action over long periods beyond the scope of individual will. It is a pattern that explicitly defies the logic of chance, as it generates a sense of coherence. We can even see ‘system return’ processes, like feedback, attempting to restore direction or elements that have died out.

 

That’s it. With nothing more than a short outline of world history we have stumbled into the detection of a non-random pattern, one that is the essence of simplicity, and yet at the same time showing evidence of a very deep and profound kind of complex system operating as a unity over thousands of years. We need a generalized kind of systems analysis to deal with this and can proceed to create a new kind of model that will help us to see what is going on. But the point is clear that as our data for world history crosses a five thousand year mark the larger dynamic behind it suddenly stands out. The main task is to follow this pattern with an outline of world history.

The rest of this chapter will deal some ideas for an ‘eonic model’, and the connection between history and evolution. In addition we will try to bring together an evolutionary framework and a Kantian theme of the philosophy of history. But it is possible to simply proceed to our outline of world history in Chapter Four, leaving the rest of this chapter as reference.  

 

    Notes

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Last modified: 09/21/2010