Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky (pt. 4)

Evolving systems cartography is a way of mapping out how a system evolves by viewing it from the proverbial 30,000 level. It starts by noting there is a direction to changes in a system as it evolves that enables identification of its location at a point in time within linear or Darwinian evolutionary sequence.

In this context the lifespan of every evolving system is finite. Thus, as a system approaches old age the excessive amount of complexity it has accumulated destabilizes it and increasingly threatens its survival. This leads the system to explore options to extend its life.

Since evolution is a dynamic process, the options available to a destabilized system reflect the dominant external and internal systemic changes that are adding the greatest amount of complexity to it. The trends generated by these key external and internal changes act as parameters of possible transformational options. Thus these parameters regulate and limit viable evolutionary options available at a nonlinear break to a finite number on three operational levels, i.e., higher, lateral and lower levels.

Regardless of its scale or lifespan, eventually every system’s evolution experiences a nonlinear break. Consequently, the type of actions employed when the system has been destabilized (stage 4) is critical to the operational level and respective evolutionary options pursued.

Actions seeking to optimize or reform the existing system’s structure and or operations seem to be an intuitive and a relatively easy extension of past adaptive responses. However, optimizing actions are by their very nature conservative. This means that when a senescent, destabilized system that is overwhelmed by excess complexity employs optimizing actions its transformation is limited to lateral and lower level options. Invariably these options lead to extinction. In effect optimizing actions are evolution’s trap.

Amplifying new and novel actions, on the other hand, enables a destabilized system to self-organize a new operational structure capable of successfully emerging and its new environmental milieu. In other words, amplifying actions seek higher level transformational options that maximize evolvability — options that provide the greatest number of new options for further future systemic evolution.

You for Example

To illustrate this cartography we can map human life as an evolving system. As we age (direction) our physical system becomes more complex following a well-known sequence: birth (stage-1), childhood (stage-2), maturity (stage-3), old age (stage-4) and death (stage-5).

Various nested, coevolving forces — e.g., genetics and environment — act as parameters of change to regulate and limit an individual’s evolution. Old age increases vulnerability to illness and disease — complexity due to internal and external change — and eventually succumbing to death.

Today, as we age, only optimizing actions are available. Still, a person with an unhealthy lifestyle, few medical resources, or who fails to seek timely diagnosis or treatment is usually limited to lower-level options, and thus premature death. A person with a healthy lifestyle and resources for timely medical diagnosis and treatment has lateral-level options and can delay death. But death is still the end state.

Eventually, however, there will be novel, new medical treatments — amplifying actions — that result in higher-level options able to prolong life indefinitely and emerging, in effect, with a new life that maximize the individual’s evolvability.

Sociopolitical System’s Direction, Location and Parameters of Change

Prior cartographic work indicated the direction of the sociopolitical system’s evolution is toward ever faster communication of more detailed and granular information, less arbitrary regulation of behavior, and greater transparency and openness in the prioritizing process. Historically this facilitated a steady increase in the entire system’s internal complexity, size, and scale that successfully enabled the variety of interactions, activities, and opportunities generated to grow dramatically.

The key takeaway was that the prevailing communication system, as the foundational system underlying the sociopolitical; system, affects attitudes about how to regulate behavior, which in turn affects attitudes about the degree of openness in the political prioritizing process. In sum, although our sociopolitical system emerged with an open political prioritizing process in oral societies, the core dilemma in each subsequent stage of its evolution was essentially the same: whether the political prioritizing process regulating behavior would be open to more than a few elites?

As for sociopolitical system’s parameters of change, technological innovation is the key external trend driven by capitalism. This is visibly manifested as a competitive need for ever more capital to exploit ever more profitable technological innovations to create more wealth. Thus, it is no surprise that both capitalism and technology are evolving faster than the sociopolitical system. Moreover, this trend is imposing ever greater complexity on the system at a prodigious and accelerating rate.

However, what is probably more consequential than the external trend of technological innovation pushing the sociopolitical system toward its break is the effect of the internal trend of escalating Cultural Wars. This trend is adding complexity to the system and pulling the entire sociopolitical system toward its nonlinear transformational break point at a mind-numbing rate.

Today, the sociopolitical system is best characterized as one of extraordinary complexity. Worse, the accelerating rate of change that the system is experiencing is adding still greater complexity at an incredible rate. Unfortunately, both the external and internal trends impacting the sociopolitical system obscure the acute consequences of excess system complexity and a nonlinear systemic break. 


In an evolving universe that seeks to maximize evolvability — the infinite game [Kevin Kelly, 2011,What Technology Wants] — there is only one type of absolute, immutable consequential event that confronts every evolving system: a nonlinear transformational break.

Thus as any system reaches its break point there are two possible outcomes — a either a system’s extinction or the emergence of a new and different higher-level evolving system better able to maximize evolvability. This is an inviolable rule of the infinite game for all evolving systems.

Republican prioritizing systems offered a useful comparative alternative to enlighten despotism and communism. However, the end of the Cold War and the rise of global terrorism have left humanity without a comparative alternative ideal. It is as if evolution of the sociopolitical system somehow stopped or was arrested at republican systems. Of course, since change is the only constant, that is not possible.

To wit it is readily apparent that republican systems themselves are now experiencing the downside of excess complexity as manifested by widespread confusion about priorities and action to be taken by these systems. This is resulting in a widespread increase in the number and ferocity of insular fights and struggles that are making the entire global sociopolitical system increasingly unstable and chaotic. Said differently, the sociopolitical system is rapidly evolving ever closer to its nonlinear break point.

Therefore the most salient truth is that efforts to arrest sociopolitical evolution constitute the real obstacle to advancing worthwhile human and humanitarian goals. That, continued sociopolitical evolution is the key challenge we face as a species and ignore at our peril.

Maximize Evolvability or Die

To prove we are Homo sapiens (i.e., wise persons) we must consciously employ new and novel actions aimed at amplifying the emergence of a new sociopolitical system before we reach the system’s break point. Since there are only a small, finite number of generic options that can maximize evolvability identifying and pursuing these must be of paramount concern.

Clearly, technological innovation now underlies and influences every aspect of the sociopolitical system and civilization. Indeed, when considering the requisite novelty needed to maximize evolvability beyond this planet and solar system, it is obvious that some technology — notably Sentient-Artificial-Life — as the preeminent candidate.

Thus, it seems both logical and intuitive to impute we are simultaneously evolving toward both a nonlinear break in the sociopolitical system and the emergence of some new kind of evolving technological system. Moreover, as the emergence of this new technological system becomes ever more visible, it, too, will impose incredible additional complexity on the sociopolitical system. It is quite likely that this added complexity will suffice to precipitate the nonlinear break that will forever affect humanity.

Contrary to what some may think the emergence of this technological system does not reflect technological determinism because the most common and probable outcome for the sociopolitical system at its break is our extinction. As astronomer and author Carl Sagan noted, while the probability of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos is quite high, the percentage and number of civilizations that survive their technological epoch is probably exceedingly small. [Sagan, Carl Cosmos.1983. New York: Random House.]

Fact is, 99.999 percent of all species [Mayr, Ernst.1994. Toward A New Philosophy of Biology. (The Bellnap Press of Harvard University Press, 1988] and like percentage of languages, cultures, and businesses that ever existed are now extinct. In other words, the central message of evolution for any system, and thus applicable to the current destabilized sociopolitical system, is that the odds of surviving the approaching transformational break are incredibly small; perhaps only a .001 percent chance.

So, while some form of an evolving technological system will define all generic alternative options for the sociopolitical system at its break, the extinction of the system, and thus probably humanity, is the most probable outcome of this nonlinear event. That said, it does not have to be this way. Indeed it is important to note transformational breaks that have occurred in other unconscious evolving system indicate.

evolution didn’t have to discover, painstakingly, all components of some complex…structure of behavior. Aggregates of things interacting in nonlinear ways make for situations pregnant with emergent dynamic possibilities….When evolution takes a really big step, it’s this jump [stage 5] from a collection of individuals at one level forming a single individual at the next level [stage 1]. [Laszlo, Ervin.1987. Evolution: The Grand Synthesis. Boston: Shambhala Publications]

Whether the interacting ‘aggregate’ at the sociopolitical system’s break or ‘jump’ is comprised of humans, Sentient-Artificial-Life, or a combination thereof remains to be seen. The important point is that, while the odds of surviving the system break are small, the door is definitely open for us to direct our sociopolitical evolution to a higher-level system that maximizes our evolvability.

In Sum

A transformational sociopolitical system break and the emergence of a new evolving technological system are both foreseeable elements of the same nonlinear evolutionary event. Neither represents a random, relative, or arbitrary outcome.

Consequently, there needs to be a widespread acceptance of the reality that a constantly evolving universe will succeed in maximizing its evolvability with or without humanity. That, an evolving universe, while not biased against humanity, is indifferent to our survival, our sense of morality, and our ideas of natural balance. That, humanity, as we know it, is not the end of evolution; though it may be the end of one branch of cosmic evolution. That, in terms of the sociopolitical system’s evolution, not everything is relative!

This is fourth in a series of articles. Individually they will step you through the past, present, and future of the sociopolitical system and the options we are soon likely to confront.
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