Andrey Korotayev

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Evolution: Cosmic, Biological, Social 

will occupy a most important place in the struggle for human understanding 

of the outside world. 


In the past, philosophers and thinkers could try to embrace the whole uni-

verse with a single idea. Today, it seems as if the epoch of great universalists 

and polymaths, who could make great discoveries in very diverse fields of 

knowledge, will never return. However, the need for conceptual organization 

and unification of knowledge still exists and is felt as such by many scientists. 

As Erwin Schrödinger (1944) noted, even though it has become almost impos-

sible for a single mind to master more than one small specialized field of sci-

ence, some scientists should still try to synthesize facts and theories into large-

scale overviews.  

The fact that the need for modern analyses of a great variety of large-scale 

processes remains rather strongly felt and is even increasing today is not sur-

prising. The currently globalizing world needs global knowledge. That is why 

we see the emergence of forecasts of the future of the Universe, of our planet 

and our World System; the development of gigantic data bases; the study of 

trends and cycles with enormous lengths and with very diverse characteristics. 

The trend toward multi-disciplinary approaches is also becoming ever more ev-

ident today.  

However, we still need to develop effective meta- and mega-theories that 

allow us to study the development of nature, society, and, indeed, the entire 

universe on suitable scales of time and space. We need effective theories that 

provide good ways for linking universal and local levels as well as relatively 

objective instruments for comparing various systems using a range of parame-

ters. Only this will make it possible to detect common features and trends in the 

endless flow of change and diversity observed in reality. This may also allow 

us to identify hierarchies of causes that influence the course of change and de-


We need epistemological key terms in order to understand change in nature 

and society in its entirety. There are not that many scientific notions that could 

play the role of such key terms. We think that evolution is one of them. As we 

see it, the idea of evolution remains important for the unification of knowledge. 

Yet one should not overestimate the importance of evolution in the way of Pi-

erre Teilhard de Chardin (1987), who believed that the evolutionary theory is 

more than scientific theory. To be sure, no scientific method can claim to be 

the only one. There will always be alternative points of view. Any method or 

approach has its limitations. Today, the evolutionary approach seems especially 

valuable. Evolutionary studies constitute one of the most fruitful fields of inter-

disciplinary synthesis, where representatives of the natural and social sciences 

as well as the humanities find common ground for research and analysis. 

We are entirely ready to acknowledge that evolutionism (as any other para-

digm) has its limitations. That is why we want to discuss them here with 

Introduction. Evolutionary Megaparadigms 



the aim to improve our understanding of it. This could raise evolutionary theo-

ries to a new qualitative level that is in agreement with current scientific 

knowledge. We believe that the present Almanac, which brings together scien-

tists working in different areas of the vast evolutionary field, will hopefully 

make a contribution to this process.  

*   *   * 

One of the clearest manifestations of the evolutionary approach is the form of 

universal evolutionism (Big History) that considers the process of evolution as 

a continuous and integral process – from the Big Bang all the way down to 

the current state of human affairs and beyond. Universal evolutionism implies 

that cosmic, chemical, geological, biological, and social types of macroevolu-

tion exhibit forms of structural continuity (for examples of this approach see, 

e.g., Chaisson 2001; Nazaretyan 2004; Panov 2008b; Fesenkova 1994; Chris-

tian 2004; Grinin et al. 2009; Jantsch 1983; Spier 2005, 2010).


 The great im-

portance of this approach (that has both the widest possible scope and a sound 

scientific basis) is evident. It strives to encompass within a single theoretical 

framework all the major phases of the universe, from the Big Bang down to 

forecasts for the entire foreseeable future, while showing that the present state 

of humankind is a result of the self-organization of matter. However, 

the conceptual efforts of a single scientist – even if he or she possesses excep-

tional erudition – have their limits. This situation does not change radically 

when a few such theorists become united in scientific schools. We now need 

a higher level of co-operation that can achieve a large-scale analysis of evolu-

tionary processes through interdisciplinary approaches. 

Which forms and directions could be especially promising in this respect? 

We believe that one of them could be comparative evolutionary studies, i.e. 

the approach followed in articles published in the second section of this Al-



 The search for a ‘common denominator’ for different evolutionary lev- 

els is very important, as it could show common fundamental characteristics of  

all forms of matter.


 Yet, there is some risk to exaggerate its potential for  



 Although the notions of megaevolution and macroevolution are very similar at the moment and 

can well be regarded as synonyms, it may still make sense to discriminate between them. For in-

stance, the term megaevolution could be used for the whole process of evolution, all of its phases 

and qualitative levels from the Big Bang to the forecastable future, whereas macroevolution may 

be useful to characterize the full course of evolution within a particular realm – in such cases we 

would speak of cosmic, geological, chemical, biological, social macroevolution. In this book 

we will use those terms in this way.  


 Examples of comparative evolutionary studies include Carneiro (2005 and this volume), Grinin, 

Markov and Korotayev (Markov and Korotayev 2007; Grinin, Markov, and Korotayev 2008 and 

this volume); see also a number of articles in the special issue of the Social Evolution & History 

(Barry 2009). 



Sometimes this is done using such ‘common denominators’ as energy or entropy (see, e.g., Cha-

isson 2001, 2005, 2006; on the analysis of such an approach see Spier 2005, 2010; see also his con-

tribution to this Almanac). 

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