Andrey Korotayev

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Evolution: Cosmic, Biological, Social 



certain conditions.


 While discussing these aspects we need to answer 

the following questions: 1) What are the specific subjects of evolutionary stud-

ies? 2) Can we detect a certain unity in evolutionary megaparadigms? Tentative 

answers to those questions may include the following: within this approach we 

are dealing with specific processes of qualitative transformations of objects and 

structures, resulting in the emergence of new levels of organization of matter 

with new qualities, possibilities, and perspectives.


 We can identify at least 

three types of qualitative changes: a) changes leading to relatively small and 

localized qualitative changes; b) changes leading to more significant qualitative 

changes (for example, the emergence of a new level of integration); c) espe-

cially significant qualitative changes, whose emergence creates possibilities for 

evolutionary breakthroughs.


 In the words of Henri Claessen: ‘Evolutionism 

then becomes the scientific activity of finding nomothetic explanations for the oc-

currence of such structural changes’ (2000a: 2). Such qualitative transformations 

are described by a number of general evolutionary principles, laws, and rules, 

some of which are mentioned below.  

In the second place, megaparadigms may include mega-laws that should be 

regarded as certain principles rather than as rigid and fixed relationships. How-

ever, the significance of each of those principles can be rather different, de-

pending on the nature of the evolving systems (cosmic, biological, or social). It 

is not sufficient to formulate only very general principles and laws. It is also 

necessary to translate these more abstract principles into methodological mod-

els for specific case studies. The present issue of the Almanac considers such 

laws, rules, and regularities. We hope that this will lead to more detailed dis-

cussions in subsequent issues.  

In the third place, the notion of megaparadigms implies the possibility to 

detect not only large-scale regularities and rules but it also opens up the possi-

bility to analyze the degree of applicability of particular rules to the various 

types of macroevolution. Indeed, the appearance of certain similar traits, prin-

ciples, and regularities in different types of macroevolution does not necessar-

ily prove that they are the same type of process. Large underlying differences 

may convey the impression of similarities. Such a discovery can lead to a better 

understanding of such differences.





 These include, for example, patterns of evolutionary expansion and differentiation of forms, de-

velopmental crises, fluctuations around certain ‘attractors’, phase transitions, certain forms of 

self-organization, relationships of components as parts of internal structures, relations between 

the whole system and its environment, etc.  


 We generally follow the definition of Voget – Claessen who define evolution as ‘the process by 

which structural reorganization is affected through time, eventually producing a form or structure 

which is qualitatively different from the ancestral form’ (Voget 1975: 862; Claessen 1989: 234; 

2000a, 2000b).




 See Grinin and Korotayev 2007; 2009: ch. 1; Grinin, Markov, and Korotayev 2008 for more detail. 


 For example, the genomes of chimpanzees and of humans are very similar; the differences consti-

tute only a few per cent (see, e.g., Cohen 2007); however, there are enormous intellectual and so-

Introduction. Evolutionary Megaparadigms 



In the fourth place, we need to develop a common terminology. We have al-

ready mentioned a few such terms, e.g., ‘energy’, ‘matter’, ‘information’, ‘sys-

tem’, etc.  

However, are there any terms that are specific for evolutionary studies? We  

think these terms should include, obviously, evolution and coevolution as well  

as micro-, macro-, and megaevolution; numerous notions labeled with the adjec- 

tive  evolutionary; various terms characterizing evolution, such as speed, direc- 

tionality, levels, forms, types; terms that characterize spheres of evolution, most  

notably, perhaps, the biosphere, the noosphere, the technosphere, etc.; possibly,  

perhaps, notions of progress or the lack of it; processes of selection and resul- 

ting variation. However, for a further development of evolutionary megapara- 

digms these terms may not be sufficient, and examples of the use of new terms  

can be found in some contributions to this Almanac. It is noteworthy that all  

the existing mega-evolutionary terminology is interdisciplinary by nature. More  

likely than not, therefore, new terms will also have an interdisciplinary character. 

In the fifth place, there is a potential for the development of cross-

disciplinary and comparative research that can establish similarities as well as 

detect differences of both methodological and practical nature; this may allow 

us to find new heuristic evolutionary theories. While the issues studied within 

different branches of sciences may be very specific, through the prism of the 

evolutionary approach it is often possible to find opportunities for interdiscipli-

nary comparisons, the creative borrowing of methodology, the identification of 

common mechanisms, of ‘vectors’ as well as systemic properties that are char-

acteristic of different forms of organization of matter, energy, and information 

in abiotic, biological, and social systems (cf. Carneiro, Spier, Snooks, Grin-

chenko, Grinin, Markov, Korotayev, Reznikova, Lekevičius, Heylighen in this 

Almanac). In forthcoming issues of the Almanac we hope to present more dis-

cussions about these aspects.  

In the sixth place, research in terms of evolutionary megaparadigms fre-

quently requires considering issues such as directionality (vectors or trends), 

speed, reversibility, etc.


 In sum, the general nature of evolution requires at-

tention to a great many fundamental aspects: ontological, epistemological, ter-

minological and methodological.  

In the seventh place, any serious scientific paradigm requires a study of its 

own history. We are planning to publish such overviews and discussions in fu-

ture issues of the Almanac.




cial differences between chimpanzees and humans that arise from the at first sight ‘insignificant’ 

difference between the two genomes. 


 In particular the speed of evolution has received considerable attention from a number of con-

tributors to the Russian version of the Almanac (Tsirel 2009; Nazaretyan 2009; Iordansky 2009; 

Grinin, Markov, and Korotayev 2009a).  


 See also the issues of the Almanac in Russian: Grinin, Markov, and Korotayev 2009a, 2009b; 

Grinin, Ilyin et al. 2010; Grinin, Markov, and Korotayev 2010.  

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