Andrey Korotayev

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Evolution: Cosmic, Biological, Social 


ideas of historism and evolutionism had penetrated rather deeply into natural 

sciences such as physics and chemistry. 


While this respectable scientific tradition has quite ancient roots, even today 

there is only a rather limited number of studies that analyze the evolution of 

abiotic, biological, and social systems as a single process. Even fewer studies 

seek to systematize the general characteristics, laws, and mechanisms of evolu-

tionary dynamics in order to allow a comparative analysis of different evolving 

systems and evolutionary forms. Furthermore, the history of evolutionary ap-

proaches and methods is rarely represented in the literature. Encyclopedias, for 

instance, pay very little attention to the notion of evolution and the development  

of evolutionary approaches to history.


 This is remarkable, given the fact that 

the application of the evolutionary approach (in the widest possible meaning of 

the term) to the history of nature and society has remained one of the most im- 

portant and effective ways for conceptualizing and integrating our growing  

knowledge of the Universe, society and human thought. Moreover, we believe  

that without using mega-paradigmatic theoretical instruments such as the evolu- 

tionary approach scientists working in different fields may run the risk of losing  

sight of each other's contributions. 


What could have caused the current insufficient attention to evolutionary  

studies? First of all, the crisis of evolutionism in the late 19


 century and  

the first half of the 20


 century in philosophy, biology, anthropology, sociology  

and some other fields (see, e.g., Zavadsky 1973: 251–269; Zavadsky et al.  

1983: 21–26; Cohen 1958; Carneiro 2003: 75–99) was caused by the fact that  

some classic evolutionists (but not all of them, including Darwin himself) based  

their ideas on a rather naïve belief in the idea of the unilinearity of development  

and the universality of general laws, as well as that nature and knowledge coin- 

cide entirely (see Bunzl 1997: 105). As a result, the positivistic philosophy of  

evolutionism could no longer accommodate the rapidly developing scientific  

knowledge and was rejected together with the idea of uninterrupted progress  

(Parsons 2000: 44).


However, the mistakes of the early evolutionists, who tried to encompass all  

the processes with a single and eternal evolutionary law, should not be regarded  

as the main cause for the current lack of attention to mega-evolutionary re- 

search. Such ‘excesses’ are rather common during the formative period of scien- 

tific schools. Since that time, the evolutionary approach has been purged from  

many of these excesses. This explains to a considerable extent why many scien- 

tists have returned to using evolutionary ideas at a new level of scientific under- 

standing as well as why they are developing them actively, not only within boil- 

ogy, sociology, or anthropology, but also within physics, chemistry and astro- 



 We mean the approach to evolution as a general scientific interdisciplinary paradigm.  

Introduction. Evolutionary Megaparadigms 

nomy. During the same period in the 20


 century, the scientific understanding 

of timescales related to the evolution of the Universe, life and humanity im-

proved dramatically. The better understanding of often enormously long peri-

ods of time during which certain systems and structures were formed stimu-

lated (especially within natural sciences) studies into the emergence of every-

thing. These studies proved to be more successful when they were based on 

evolutionary paradigms. 


However, we believe that a major cause for the lack of attention to evolu-

tionary paradigms is connected with the deepening contradiction between, on 

the one hand, the aspiration for levels of scientific precision and rigor that can 

only be achieved through narrow specialization, and, on the other hand, the lim- 

ited human ability to absorb and process information. In addition, perhaps more  

than any other theory, macro-evolutionary theories have to deal with the acute  

contradiction between the world and its cognizing agents; this contradiction can  

be expressed in the following way: how can infinite reality be known with  

the aid of finite and imperfect means? The wider the scope of studied reality is  

within a given theoretical approach, the more acute this contradiction becomes. 


In earlier eras of scientific studies one could hope to know reality inter-

preted as a ‘thing’ that is hidden from the human eyes by the armor of ‘phe-

nomena’ (see Bachelard 1987: 17–18). The speculative philosophy dominant in 

the mid 19


 century was based on the assumption that the search for universal-

ity implied the presence in the Universe of some form of essence that did not 

permit any relationships outside itself. It was the task of speculative philosophy 

to discover such an essence (Whitehead 1990: 273). Today, however, this type 

of approach has largely been abandoned. 

If Popper (1974) and Rescher (1978) are right by maintaining that for any 

concrete scientific problem an infinite number of hypotheses is possible, and if 

it is correct that the number of scientific laws in any scientific field is an open 

system with an indefinite number of elements (see, e.g., Grinin 1998: 35–37; 

Grinin and Korotayev 2009: 45), then what could be a possible total number 

of hypotheses in evolutionary theory? Furthermore, the need to master colos-

sal amounts of information as well as complex scientific methods makes re-

search into macroevolution rather difficult. However, if the human mind had 

always retreated while confronting problems of cognition that appeared over-

whelming, we would have neither philosophy nor science today. The complexity 

of such tasks and the difficulties in reaching solutions both stimulate the 

search for new theoretical and experimental means (including bold hypothe-

ses, theories, and methods). As we see it, evolutionism as an interface theory 

that analyzes historical changes in natural and social systems and as a method  

that is appropriate for the analysis of many directional large-scale processes 

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