The Metapattern of General Evolutionary Dynamics and the Three Dynamical Realms of Big History


Tyler Volk


The goal of this paper is to formalize better the division of big history into three main stages (phases, eras). In my own work they are “dynamical realms,” 1. physical laws, 2. biological evolution, and 3. cultural evolution. I show a deep similarity in two mighty transitions; first, from dynamical realm 1 to 2, and then from 2 to 3. The common “metapattern” in these transitions is that of generalized evolutionary dynamics, which in both cases opened up vast new arenas of possibility space. I first present relevant conclu-sions from my book, Quarks to Culture. A “grand sequence” of twelve fundamental levels was forged through a repeated cycle of “combogenesis” spanning the dynamical realms as families of levels. Next, I provide examples of other scholars who have similarly weighed in on a three-fold arc; notably Christian, Spier, Chaisson, Rolston, Salk, and Voros (following Jansch). Like me, all have nominally recognized similarities between biological and cultural evolution as important in the dynamics of realms two and three. Generally, these scholars have not placed primary emphasis on general evolutionary dynamics as a multiply-instantiated process. The PVS metapattern for evolution (propagation, variation, and selection) is well established as overarching across many patterns in biology, following life’s origin. In culture the operation of general evolution-ary dynamics is, I suggest, dual-tier, consisting of cognitive PVS of individuals coupled to social PVS of groups. The emergence of realm-forming PVS-dynamics twice (biology, culture) created radically new ways to explore and stabilize patterns in expansive fields of diverse types within the respective dynamics. Thus, we can recognize a fundamental-ly similar reason (i.e., two emergent forms of evolutionary dynamics) for why so many scholars have correctly, in my opinion, discerned a threefold arc of big history. Im-portant as well in the flow of progress from quarks to culture were two only slightly less major instantiations of PVS-dynamics (though both crucial): an era of chemical evolution within the realm of physical laws, which led into the realm of biological evolution, and also the evolution of the animal cognitive learning PVS of trial, error, and success, which was essential to the path into cultural evolution. In concluding remarks, I note several outstanding issues: alternative proposals for five orders or four dimensions (i.e., divisions more than three in the arc of big history); the use of the word “evolution,” and three matrices (cosmosphere, biosphere, civisphere) that contain and are constituted by the varieties of patterns within the corresponding dynamical realms.