Andrey Korotayev



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Evolution: Cosmic, Biological, Social 

17 


                                                          

In the eighth place, we believe that there are common methodological prin-

ciples and approaches to evolutionary studies, even though we are dealing with 

processes that never fully repeat themselves.  

In contrast to the system approach that considers systems and structures as 

essentially static (or concentrates on their functioning), evolutionary ap-

proaches focus on those special conditions and factors that determine qualita-

tive evolutionary transformations and reorganizations of such systems. These 

factors themselves become the subject of theoretical analysis. This may lead to 

the development of analytical instruments which are common for different 

branches of the evolutionary studies. 

In evolutionary studies, the attention is usually focused on what is consid-

ered to be the most important, on qualitative changes and transformations (re-

organizations). Leading questions include the direction of such changes: for 

example, if they lead to a decrease, or increase, in complexity; whether they 

constitute a transition to a new evolutionary level; or whether they are similar 

to, for instance, the mechanism of adaptive radiation in biology; whether it is 

possible to trace some genetic links. 

The ‘historical method’ employed in evolutionary studies differs from 

the ‘logical method’ of traditional philosophy. Within such philosophical ap-

proaches ‘the logical’ was supposed to clean ‘the historical’ from various con-

tingencies in order to detect its essence. However, in this ‘cleansing’ process 

the resulting logical constructions tended to lose their connection with reality 

entirely, which is unacceptable within evolutionary studies. This will be elabo-

rated below.  

Finally, a few epistemological aspects and principles are common to all 

evolutionary studies, because they stem from the peculiarities of self-

organizing processes (see Grinin and Korotayev 2009: ch. 1 for more detail). 

As direct observations of complex large-scale objects and processes are impos-

sible, our reflection about these things constitutes a multi-layered indirect proc-

ess of cognition that is complicated greatly by linguistic ambiguities and other 

semiotic problems.  

In conclusion, evolutionary megaparadigms must be based on empirical ob-

servations and plausible hypotheses, which allow the application of the stan-

dard scientific procedures of verification and falsification.

20

 They must be able 



to accommodate most, if not all, of the existing evidence. We want to encour-

age as much open discussion as possible about evolutionary studies, in hope 

that from a new diversity of approaches a new unifying approach may emerge 

sometime in the future. 

 

20

 For example, according to Popper (1974, 1984), Campbell (1974), and some other researchers.  




Introduction. Evolutionary Megaparadigms 

18 


                                                          

The Almanac’s Structure  

The contributions to this volume are subdivided into three sections: Section I 

(‘Universal Evolution’, 2 articles); Section II (‘Biological and Social Forms of 

Evolution: Connections and Comparisons’, 4 articles); and Section III (‘As-

pects of Social Evolution’, 3 articles).  

Subjects and issues of the contributions to all three sections have a great 

deal in common and significantly supplement each other. As a result, the pre-

sent issue may be regarded as a collective effort dedicated to the search for 

the contours and specifics of evolutionary megaparadigms. In addition, in this 

issue we have tried to present articles that study problems on various scales. 

Yet in general this issue deal with studies at very large temporal and spatial 

scales, in other words, the issues of mega- and macroevolution.  



*   *   *  

The First Section of the Almanac (Universal Evolution) starts with Fred 

Spier's article ‘How Big History Works: Energy Flows and the Rise and Demise  

of Complexity’.

 

This article is written within the tradition of universal evolu- 



tionism, also known as the Big History. This research project aims at integrating  

the natural sciences and the humanities. In doing so it has become possible to  

detect a number of general vectors and trends in evolution as well as mecha- 

nisms and regularities, including their specific qualitative features at various  

evolutionary phases. The Big History emerged as a scientific discipline in  

the late  20

th

 century. It offers an integrated model of the evolution of the Uni- 



verse that connects the development of social, biological, and abiotic systems  

into a single consecutive process.

21

 Such Big History models lead to the follow- 



ing question: is the information component within the triad ‘matter – energy –  

information’ a significant factor of evolutionary processes, or are two basic cate- 

gories (energy and matter) sufficient for their description? The changes in 

the Universe during 13.7 billion years reveal certain simple trends.  

Fred Spier advances an explanatory scheme for all of history from the be-

ginning of the Universe until life on Earth today (Big History). His scheme is 

based on the ways in which energy levels as well as matter and energy flows 

have made possible both the rise and demise of complexity in all its forms.  

According to Spier, the history of complexity in the Universe consists of  

a rather boring beginning, followed by a more exciting period of increasing lo-

cal and regional complexity, which will subsequently peter out into total bore-

dom. This is directly linked to the fact that, from the very beginning, the Big 

History has exhibited a trend towards lower energy levels as well as towards 

energy flows which first increased and then mostly began to decrease. As a re-

 

21

 In 2005 the journal Social Evolution & History published a special issue (Exploring the Horizons 



of Big History [Snooks 2005]) dedicated to the problems of this direction of universal evolution-

ism; we have already made above some references to some contributions to that special issue.  






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