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.
mechanics. This subject has been well reviewed elsewhere, so I shall not dwell on it here (see, for example, the work of Stapp5). However, I should like to draw attention to a rather different argument due to the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Andrei Linde. It concerns the extreme case of when quantum mechanics is applied to the universe as a whole—the subject of quantum cosmology. Linde’s argument focuses on the passage of time. He points out that temporal intervals are not absolute, but
reality was left to the scientists. History dealt, instead, with the complex, unpredictable, and endlessly creative world of living, thinking beings. This was the atmosphere in which C. P. Snow famously argued that the humanities and the sciences had moved so far apart that they had become, in effect, distinct “cultures.”8 What prospect was there of overcoming such fundamental differences? In the rest of this paper I will argue that a new chapter is being written in this complex and tempestuous
Chapter 14* Bringing Culture to Cosmos The Postbiological Universe Steven J. Dick The Biological Universe (Dick 1996) analyzed the history of the extraterrestrial life debate, documenting how scientists have assessed the chances of life beyond Earth during the 20th century. Here I propose another option—that we may in fact live in a postbiological universe, one that has evolved beyond flesh and blood intelligence to artificial intelligence (AI) that is a product of cultural rather than
significance as well as very human relevance of the idea of universal evolution was later summed up in the aptly titled “Life, Hope, and Cosmic Evolution”: We have evidence of a truly wide Cosmic Evolution from hydrogen to Homo, and probably somewhere an evolution beyond the Homo level of sentiency. We have in Cosmic Evolution a fundamental principle of growth that affects the chemical atoms as well as plants and animals, the stars and nebulae, space-time and mass-energy. In brief, everything
coherent history of the entire past, beginning with the origins of the universe. With an attempt to explore how human history is embedded in the histories of the biosphere and the universe, Maps of Time won the 2005 WHA History Prize for the best book in world history published in 2004. He is also the author of A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia: Vol 1: Inner Eurasia from Prehistory to the Mongol Empire, in The Blackwell History of the World series (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998). This is