Cosmos & Culture: Cultural Evolution in a Cosmic Context
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Cosmic evolution, the idea that the universe and its constituent parts are constantly evolving, has become widely accepted only in the last 50 years. It is no coincidence that this acceptance parallels the span of the Space Age. Although cosmic evolution was first recognized in the physical universe early in the 20th century, with hints even earlier, the relationships among planets, stars, and galaxies, and the evolution of the universe itself, became much better known through the discoveries by planetary probes and space telescopes in the latter half of the century. It was also during the last 50 years—a century after Darwin proposed that evolution by natural selection applies to life on our own planet—that researchers from a variety of disciplines began to seriously study the possibilities of extraterrestrial life and “the biological universe.” Considering biology from this broader cosmological perspective has expanded biological thinking beyond its sample-of-one straightjacket, incorporating biology into cosmic evolution. Astrobiology is now a robust discipline even though it has yet to find any life beyond Earth. But there is a third component to cosmic evolution beyond the physical and the biological. Even if we only know of culture on one planet so far, cultural evolution has been an important part of cosmic evolution on Earth, and perhaps on many other planets. Moreover, it also dominates the other two forms of evolution in terms of its rapidity. Humans were not much different biologically 10,000 years ago, but one need only look around to see how much we have changed culturally. Yet, unlike the study of biological evolution, which has made great progress since Darwin’s Origin of Species, the scientific study of cultural evolution languished after Darwin’s death for the better part of a century. Only within the past few decades has significant progress been made, and concerned with advancing their fledging science, cultural evolutionists have yet to expand their thinking beyond their current planetary sample-of-one concerns. But if life and intelligence do exist beyond Earth, it is likely that culture will arise and evolve. In this volume authors with diverse backgrounds in science, history, and anthropology consider culture in the context of the cosmos, including the implications of the cosmos for our own culture.
(though not in the Communist world) turned towards relativism. Some concluded that their role was to interpret meaning rather than to seek out the facts. Under the influence of scholars such as anthropologist Clifford Geertz, many English-speaking historians became more interested in how people mapped the world than in the accuracy of the maps they constructed. As Appleby and her colleagues put it: “Geertz . . . explicitly rejected the positivist scientific model in favor of an increasingly
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are falling to the juggernaut of globalization, while others are still deliberately targeted by governments—persecuted, displaced, denied rights, forcibly assimilated, etc.—as a continuation of colonizations begun centuries or decades ago. And so it is that some anthropologists, and other scholars, too, spend their careers attempting to be witnesses for those who have ended up on the wrong side of power, and to ensure that their stories are told. And so it is that some anthropologists and social
inventions—the spear, the plow, the fireplace, the coat, the boat, the brick, the book, and the laptop—we would have grubbed along forever as hunter-gatherers. Human culture was a dance between material innovations and innovations of the mind. Human culture layered new concepts, new languages, and new forms of data processing, data storing, worldview making, scenario creating, and future prediction. Human culture worked with the multigenerational stubbornness of the bacteria that built
conditions seem very narrowly restricted to values which may statistically determine the emergence of life and complexity (Barrow 2002, 2007). “Final” Anthropic Principle (Barrow and Tipler 1986). “Intelligent information processing must emerge in the universe, and persist [e.g., as a developmental process].” In other words, not only life, but intelligent life is statistically likely to emerge and persist, due to the special structure of our universe. The FAP may be inferred from both fine tuning