Here are the three sections on the ‘eonic model’ from Chapter 4 of World History and the Eonic Effect
The first reference to the distinction is here, scroll down or use the search box
The ‘Eonic Evolution’ of Civilization We can call the evidence of our three turning points the ‘eonic’ or intermittent evolution of civilization, as some form of ‘macroevolution’ turning into history. Then we can keep rough track of the two levels of history we detect in the eonic effect. This will create a puzzle of two distinct forms of action, one inside the eonic pattern, one outside. We will say that system action shows ‘eonic determination’, or macro-action, while behavior outside of it is simply ‘free action’, or ‘micro-action’.
3.5 A New Model of History: Eonic Evolution
The historical emerges from the unknown, the primeval scenes of evolution, and the emergence of the hominid creature with a runaway brain from the Paleolithic, the ‘primordial minus infinity’ from which man arrives to commence the arts of agriculture, and the creation of civilization. This tale must be one of relative beginnings and pass on from the still clouded threshold moment when modern man passed, or by-passed, the Neanderthal in an explosion of cultural and artistic creativity. But as we look back at the lost world of man’s cultural existence in the later Paleolithic, we must wonder if the historical, then still so far in the future, was not prefigured in that passage. We have seen the wisp of evidence for a Great Explosion. Does the explosion of creativity that suddenly appears with the beginning of earliest man show any relation to what we see later? Is the historical the evolutionary? That is, how is the historical related to its greater source, the descent of Man? This is one of the most difficult questions, for it evokes at once the search for historical causality, the mechanisms of evolution, both genetic and cultural, in the context of physical laws and in the headwind of all ‘arguments by design’, teleological philosophies, and the nature of purpose in relation to both organism and its environment.
The discovery of the eonic effect as a concealed process of macroevolution operating in world history has forced us to examine the meaning of the term ‘evolution’. We adopt our own usage of the term but with an open-ended suggestion of an overlap with earlier phases of the descent of man. Perhaps the details of the account are lost forever. Yet the eonic effect warns us that high-speed changes may have occurred, and these are no longer visible. We need a model that can adapt to relative beginnings. Otherwise we may suffer the plight of Darwinism, whose source myth based on insufficient evidence is being applied to the study of history, where we do have evidence, an absurd situation.
The point is that our data suggests the way we can do without the account of absolute beginnings that vitiates theory with a false consistency. This sense of the relative beginning of history is essential because we must take man as we find him. Our argument throws severe doubt on current accounts of the descent of man, because we see that many of the cultural aspects of man ascribed to adaptation are the result of a different form of evolution altogether, one visible in history. In the final analysis, we cannot indulge in the speculations of Darwinists. We weren’t there. But what we can say is that world history is not evolving in this fashion. It is a preposterous situation where speculation about what we can’t observe is applied to what we can see, after we have put blinders on. We can do without the account of absolute beginnings because the result will be a model that is an empirical map, a theory of the evidence, not a full theory of evolution. We cannot produce the latter until we resolve the facts. An intermittent model allows a component chain of relative phases of evolution.
Further, we suspect that those who apply this theory to history have an agenda. They may wish to induce competition, survival of the fittest, with an excuse for this. Witness the subtitle of Darwin’s Origin. This was the age, for example, of the extermination of the American Indian. If you wish someone’s land, a theory like Darwin’s is a useful excuse to flout morality. Thus we must examine the motives of theory, for theories are emergent processes in real evolutionary time. Their status as ‘objective’ is open to question. A close look at the eonic effect can be used as a test of ‘competition’, historically. This might be too harsh, Darwinists merely confused, but this is what they themselves have declared. It is convenient to have ‘scientific’ grounds to relieve conscience, justify conflict. We can however extend our view of history to see that meaningful development follows a different course. The onset of civilization after the Neolithic, taken as one relative beginning, shows its own dynamic. And this is not a struggle for dominance of ‘favored races’. We don’t have to inject the red herring of some speculative theory about unobserved eras into this history. World history is moving toward an integrated community of man, not some divisive struggle between winners and losers in the game of survival.
Wallace pointed unwittingly to the basic flaw in Darwinism, man has a complex potential, difficult to realize, how could this be the result of adaptation? Man is confronted with the demand to understand himself, his latent potential, and consciousness. In simplest terms, we need the evolution of an agent, not of an ethical robot with altruistic genes. It is hard to see how adaptation could account for the man behind the man. Without this there is no definition even of what organism it is that has evolved at all. Whatever the case, Darwinism offers us no such account. Committed to absolute beginnings, a full and total account, it must plug the gaps with a universal generalization, a claim on a law of evolution. Natural selection is perfect for that. It is devastating to consider that Darwinism has missed the main issue altogether. It seems an insoluble puzzle. Where did Darwin go wrong?
A first problem is the nature of the observer himself. Since the time-scale of evolution surpasses the lifespan of a human observer, the question arises as to what is meant by the concept ‘observing evolution’. Historians can never deceive themselves that guesswork can be applied to gaps in history. The facts, and all the facts are needed. We have produced our hurricane argument, and must remember that the temporal and spatial scope of evolutionary process is tremendous, and that we never see and cannot easily visualize evolution, and are prone to misconceptions. If we apply the term ‘evolution’ to world history we see at once the difficulty of correct observation with respect to five thousand years of civilization, let alone theoretical generalization. And even there we detect an evolutionary macro process entangled at the highest level of culture. Thus warns us that you must close in on the facts at close range, and that is still beyond our ability. We must have eyes to see.
A strange question lurks in Darwinian theory: is there a difference between evolution and history, and if so on what date did the transition occur? Clearly there would not be a ‘date’ for this, but some sort of incremental transition. We can make the distinction formal by allowing history to emerge from evolution. The eonic effect foots the bill here. This means that history is really appearing in the Paleolithic, a not unreasonable usage, which we will take informally as a significant comment on our standard usage, noting also that history is sometimes also defined as starting with the invention of writing, the first period of the eonic effect (!). We can also speak of the ‘eonic evolution of civilization’, to qualify our use of the term ‘evolution’.
From Evolution to History We can make the evidence of the type seen in the eonic effect explicit grounds for defining both the unity of and a distinction between evolution and history. We could call history the record of free activity rising in the wake of the passive evolution of volition. At what point has relative free action emerged for man to create culture as a free agent? This definition includes the possibility that this has not yet occurred.
The ‘Eonic Evolution’ of Civilization We can call the evidence of our three turning points the ‘eonic’ or intermittent evolution of civilization, as some form of ‘macroevolution’ turning into history. Then we can keep rough track of the two levels of history we detect in the eonic effect. This will create a puzzle of two distinct forms of action, one inside the eonic pattern, one outside. We will say that system action shows ‘eonic determination’, or macro-action, while behavior outside of it is simply ‘free action’, or ‘micro-action’.
The Great Transition Armed with these distinctions we can call the passage from evolution to history The Great Transition, with a possible echo (or not) of The Great Explosion. However, we are immersed in this transition, and may or may not have reached the end of its clearly intermittent action, seen as a series of individual transitions.
This connection is a variant of our photo finish argument, and it has a significant twist, which is that many fail to find any science of history, while the science of evolution is taken as a given. We should be suspicious that our eonic data is precisely the type of sequence, complete with intermittent transitions, required to fill the discontinuity between history and evolution.
Laws of History and Popper on Historicism Even as we respond to the challenge of Darwinism, we must confront the legacy of historical theory, as we embark on a path often labeled ‘historicism’. This thinking was prefigured by the Kantian analysis, but it is useful to see how this consideration was reborn in the wake of Kant’s philosophy of history. The perception of the eonic effect, in the evidence of what we have called the eonic evolution of civilization, seen in the strange hints of periodic motion in its emergence, must by its nature propose to reopen the issues, well-known to students of historiography, of macrohistorical structure and sequence, ‘laws of history’, in the debate that has attended the rise of modern historical research, beginning in the early nineteenth century.
This research has tended to skirt these very issues as intractably difficult, or undecidable, in the first priority of accurate historical fact-finding. Indeed, a healthy skepticism is generally brought by the specialist narrative historian to the legacy of Universal History as it emerges in the movement, for example, of German Idealism, and to attempts to find laws, forces, or regularities of the kind studied in the more fundamental branches of science. In the latter category must be placed the Darwinian theory of evolution, and in the middle, the Marxist theory of historical materialism, this a significant inversion of an idealist program. To these can be added the eclectic world of the macroeconomic model, seldom explicitly offered as a model of historical evolution, but very much so taken in practice in the various ‘economic interpretations of history’.
Related to this, one of the most interesting challenges to the attempt to find historical ‘laws’ is the work of Isaiah Berlin in his Historical Inevitability. The basic difficulty raised by this and other critiques is the factor of spontaneous human action, whether or not we ascribe to this as an element of will, in the difficulties of all theories of will. Thus, Karl Popper’s well-known critique of historicism is one perspective that cuts to the root of the problem of both historical and evolutionary theories:
I mean by ‘historicism’ an approach to the social sciences which assumes that historical prediction is their principal aim, and which assumes that this aim is attainable by discovering the ‘rhythms’ or the ‘patterns’, the ‘laws’ or the ‘trends’ that underlie the evolution of history.
This term has a complex and confusing history but we will take Popper’s version to start. This important critique (directed at Marxist predictive ‘laws’) does not apply to our eonic effect, for the simple reason that our evidence is empirical, and gives us the answer, without telling us what the question was. We see pattern, rhythm, but these are not laws, and we make no predictions from the observation. But this was our problem, not nature’s. We can retreat from causal explanation to pure periodization, and correlated causal association.vi
It would seem that the case against laws of history, laws of evolution strangely exempted, is so overwhelming that we should abandon their consideration. But the ironic result of seeing the eonic effect is precisely this, to find strong, conclusive, evidence of historical regularity that courts rather than preempts the issues of freedom. Our three turning points suddenly start to make sense, for they show us nothing but free activity, and yet this is demonstrably different in the crucial eonic intervals, witness the Axial Age. More, we see the idea of freedom born in this very context of historical determination, e.g. emergent democracy shows historical conditioning. This provokes the classic contradiction in the question, what causes freedom? We will explore in the next section the simple solution we see in action, which is to find some middle ground between ‘freedom and necessity’ in the factor of self-consciousness.
Thus, we can adapt our thinking to the eonic effect, by taking the contrast of consciousness and self-consciousness as surrogates for determinism and free will. And then freedom can be an evolutionary idea carried as a virtual potential realized at points of ‘relative freedom’ or self-consciousness. Indeed, note the paradox that arises here, which is that ‘freedom’ in history, and ‘the generation of freedom’ cease to be the same thing. We must realize our own potential, and activate that. Note that the emergence of philosophical ideas of freedom itself shows correlation to our non-random pattern.
A Freedom Paradox Consider as scratchpad heuristic thinking the contradiction (there are any number of variants), speaking very loosely: either man is free to self-evolve or else he is not so free and is ‘evolved’ by a larger process toward that freedom, at which point there should be a transition to a post-evolutionary era where ‘evolution’ is switched off and freedom takes effect. Note the dilemma. If he is too ‘evolved’ by that larger process, that self-evolution can never begin or exercise itself, yet if that ‘self-evolution’ is total he might never advance, remaining at the level of his starting point, and never reach freedom (which we didn’t define, the definition might itself be evolving). One resolution of the paradox might be to consider that some form of ‘evolution of one kind’ must initiate an evolutionary sequence toward freedom as un-interfered with ‘sort of freedom’, and yet operate intermittently in a series of on again off again bursts of ‘evolving’ between which self-evolution can occur. It is like the extra wheels on a child’s bike. The temporary constraint on ‘freedom to ride’ is necessary as a stage toward riding solo. We have just found a way to derive the eonic effect with its distinct alternation of degrees of freedom. Thus an evolution of freedom might well break down into a series of alternating intervals of degrees of freedom, induced or not induced. Such situations occur all the time in real life, e.g. the ‘third wheel’ on a child’s bike.
Popper and Historicism We must consider the rejection of the entire domain of macrohistory in Popper, who amplifies Fisher’s Lament, in his attack on ‘historicist’ beliefs in The Poverty of Historicism, where he criticizes grand clichés of historic Destiny and the ‘dramatic’ view of history, the idea that history has a plot or significant structure. Unfortunately, the term ‘historicism’ has changed its meaning here. Not only Kant’s Idea, but Herder’s other Idea, arises in a genuine dialectic at the eonic synchronous moment of German philosophy. The different historicism of Herder, the complex world of nineteenth century German cultural philosophy, the phantom Book never written, The Critique of Historical Reason of Dilthey, as the emphasis on the unique, and Popper’s critique of his definition of historicism, as the historical generalization of physical law, show the complex legacy of this perspective, as the term seems to shift into its opposite. The eonic effect beautifully synchronizes the contrary meanings of the term ‘historicism’, for we can see therein a way in which the ‘lawful’ and ‘determinate’ can be taken in a sense that does not contradict the unique, the particular, or the potential individuality of the historical agent.vii
Causality, Freedom and Self-consciousness We noted the critique of theories of history using Popper’s idea of historicism. But we have found empirically that there is such a thing as macro-history, and our data shows us how to reconcile the contradiction of freedom and causality. The resolution of the paradox of historicism is empirically given by the eonic data, and lies before us in something like the electronic ‘on-off’ switch, to match our intermittent or ‘eonic’ data. That’s crude thinking, but sufficient for large-scale periodization analysis. We have a mixed situation, free agent, and (causal) mechanism. Choice and mechanism operate in tandem. We see our mysterious drumbeat switches on over a brief time scale of centuries relative to millennia in non-contingent evolutionary event-regions. Instead of an on-off switch we see something like ‘switched on’ periods with relative degrees of freedom in the appearance of less conditioned periods able to innovate rapidly. How to proceed with such a strange set of facts? But there is a simple explanation here: change can occur in the agent’s self-consciousness, in the middle ground between determinism and freedom. Look at the eonic effect. Higher degrees of freedom show both deterministic and free influence overlaid. We call that ‘creative action’, in most cases. Note that creativity creates a sense of freedom, but isn’t controlled by its agent. Thus, confusing the question is the fact that ‘free agency’ and ‘freedom’ are not the same necessarily. ‘Choice’ is an observational given, however we explain it. We need not decide about free will to recount the history of ‘choices’, branches of potential outcomes becoming realized. We have the clue to proceed.
Further, as we will see as this logic unfolds, the ‘causal agency’ is trying to ‘cause freedom’. The eonic effect is itself like an ‘evolution of freedom’. This crosses the tripwire into a classic ‘contradiction’ as our subject transforms into something else, that something being somewhere in the vicinity of the philosophy of history. We will see that the eonic effect straddles the twin domains of the deterministic and the emergence of man as a ‘free agent’ with potential freedom. The problem of historicism disappears if we renounce causal laws and predictions of the future, and look only toward patterns of creative action, in the past, taking care to define the transition from this past to the open present. We don’t need a proof of man’s free will, or some scheme of historical laws, and will complete our eonic model without deciding these issues. But we do need a model that shows some kind of ‘determination’ in our pattern, and yet switches off in the present, for the evolution of freedom must have a free future. Such seemingly bizarre properties are in fact everyday occurrences, and will form the basis of a model. That’s very strange, and only an example will help, make it transparent. The eonic effect is such an example.
The issue of self-consciousness can be grounded in nothing more complex than the power of attention, contrasted with states of consciousness that are more mechanized. We don’t need to commit on any psychological theory to consider it this way, although collating creativity and self-consciousness is an oversimplification. No theory of evolution has ever properly accounted for the emergence of the power of attention (which clearly antedates man’s emergence). But we must assume, as an example of our issue of relative beginnings, the man we find, a creature with a complex power of attention, which he can control to some extent. The point is that there is nothing mystical in the issue of self-consciousness.
The Evolution Of Freedom Our distinction of System Action and Free Action conceals an idea of the ‘evolution of freedom’, and we need to explore this new perspective on systems and individuals in tandem. This is an empirical approach, passing through the thicket of ideas of freedom. Our objective, here, is to throw the idea of freedom into deep time, asking for close tracking, then produce closely tracked data in historical time, in the fashion of our photo finish strategy.
One way to see the problem with Darwinism is to consider the ‘evolution of freedom’, as the empirical study of the evolution of volition, free activity, consciousness and more general ideas of (possibly political) freedom. We have seen the Kantian perspective on ‘free will’, and make no claims here, one way or the other. But the ‘freedom grab bag’ as a seminal archetype is more general than free will. We can be free to make choices, on some level of freedom. Choices leave historical traces as ‘one thing instead of another’, whatever the source of that choice. Since the existence of ‘free will’ is not claimed in these assumptions, we can even look at the evolution of the idea of freedom, an idea that can be entertained without a realizable freedom. Note this point: a new potential as self-consciousness could arise as evolution of some kind, armed with the idea of freedom, as a motive to action. This suggests we are still inside such a process, even as we use the idea of freedom, although it is difficult to define it.
We can see that the idea of freedom enters the eonic pattern as the very lack of ‘freedom’ to create civilization without a macro helper. We also see the double emergence of democracy as a significant riddle of the data. Thus, since we have some spectacular evidence of the ‘evolution of freedom’ as a macroevolutionary process in the eonic effect (to be developed as the distinction of system and free action, and the discrete freedom sequence), we can challenge Darwinists on this score. The interest of this approach is that the idea of freedom must overlap between evolution in the Paleolithic and the emergence of civilization taken as evolution.
Note the contradiction arising as we speak of freedom, its evolution presumes its relative absence. How much more true that must have been at earlier stages of his emergence, as a cultural hominid. We can draw no direct conclusions, but the clear appearance of a macro factor in history severely challenges claims of random emergence. Darwinists say this happened at random. We could just as well claim it happened in a long-range sequence of relative advances that sourced in one area and diffused thence to a greater species environment. We naturally begin to wonder if this sequence would terminate at some point, its job done. We certainly see increasing degrees of freedom in history. Look at the difficulties of history, and consider the helplessness of unorganized tribal systems.
We need more than theories about the Paleolithic, we need histories. We can use this to demand from evolutionists finer grained data, or withdraw their claims, based on an idea of evolving freedom. Darwinists are claiming that a genetic mutation or mutations arose that left man ‘free enough’ to create civilization (however any such genetics that might accompany greater evolution would be of first interest). But we can show that this assumption is false. Note that our basic pattern shows us already the macro factor in the ‘evolution of freedom’, in a sense to be made clear.
We could also think in terms of ‘volition’, perhaps, instead of ‘freedom’ as ‘free will’. How did ‘volition’ evolve, and at what point, if any, did it evolve into freedom, if any? Is there a macro factor involved in the evolution of volition and/or freedom? If so, where’s the empirical proof? This language is fuzzy, but makes approximate sense, and really asks us to define, and find evidence for, what we mean by evolution in terms of a whole man, as a self, or agent. This agent must choose between courses of action. All this amounts to is a request for more data on earlier behavioral stages, and their degree of freedom, which to our view needed some extra vitamins each step of the way. And we are required to specify the evolutionary psychology ‘claimed to have evolved’. It is simply an assumption to say that a ‘utilitarian’ account constitutes the bedrock of theory. In fact, man seems to downshift into low gear, and switches between different evolutionary psychologies. He has the problem, altogether appropriate in any account of evolution, of bringing ‘self-consciousness’ to the mechanization of consciousness.
Two questions lurk here, and we will not be dogmatic. One is the genetic issue of man’s ‘human software’ and how it evolved and how it works. Far be it from us to refuse some lucky mutation, if someone can fix its historical coordinates. But we must be sure we know what that software is, and can’t restrict its description in order to make natural selection work. The lurking nemesis of such thinking is the possibility of a macro factor associated with ‘freedom’ that operates beyond the genetic level. All at once we have unexpected data for it. Subtract the eonic effect from world history and you lose the birth of civilization, all the great religions, the Greek Miracle, etc… Flat history in long sluggish eternities of no advance.
In general, as one historian of evolution has put it, echoing Wallace, “Here at last volition has taken its place in the world of nature.”viii
Man Makes Himself The basic issue is very simple, and should be taken empirically by looking at world history with one simple (theoretical) question, Does man make himself? Thus we can restate the whole issue in intuitive form, using the title of a book by Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself. To say that ‘man makes himself’ implies that ‘freedom to do so has already evolved’. But questioning that was one of our starting points, and we can see already from superficial inspection of our turning points that emergent civilization has a hidden driver, and that otherwise it tends to sandbank, slow to a crawl, medievalize, drift from initial states of high advance, degenerate into empire, lose its initial advances. Man enslaves man, while we will see that our discrete freedom sequence (the double emergence of democracy) comes to the rescue twice in a row, and also includes the emergent ‘abolitionism’ by correlation in its ‘eonic effects’.
Notice that science and democracy are born in ancient Greece, then die out until our next turning point. The Roman Republic goes from bad to worse as libertas becomes imperium, and then everything seems to collapse in a Dark Age. There is even a tendency to think decline a form of advance. So the issue is complicated, and we see that while man is the only candidate to self-create his own freedom, make himself, and civilization, there is a helper-driver visible by looking backwards at the globally interconnected way in which advance seems to alternate intermittently. This is a limit on the idea of freedom, and we must be wary not to ‘alienate’ ourselves in a system of determinism in the name of evolving freedom. The answer is simple. Such a system must terminate, and leave man on his own, evolution must become history. That point must come as we begin to observe it, ready or not. And our model will automatically take care of that, in the short term. It switches off in the recent past, as theory goes out the window and is replaced by free action, free or not.
Upon reflection, we realize that ‘evolution’ on the surface of a planet is not something simple, and that the eonic effect shows one of ways this can happen, one of the simplest and most plausible, however extraordinary. Darwinists just snap their fingers, things just happen. We see that a driver is needed, and a very delicate one that does not overdetermine or underdetermine what emerges. And at some point, like a jump-start process applied to car, that determination process has to yield to a completed or ‘free’ process, i.e. the cars starting, of our evolution turning into history. The gist of it is that the whole can efficiently evolve through the parts, which show intervals of ‘system action’ or eonic determination.
One way to distinguish history and evolution might lie just here, by considering the transition from passive to active organism, from behavior to free (ambient or locomotive) action, in the ambiguity of the term ‘free’. Perhaps if man is free then evolution ends and history begins, if this is our choice of definition. Or, if he is not free, his evolution continues, and the term ‘history’ is so far another term for this process.
3.5.1 A Gaian Matrix: Detecting A Global System
We are confronted by the strange fact that world history, behind its appearance of randomness, shows in fact the operation of some kind of global dynamic ‘system’, one whose properties both resemble and part ways with those of standard dynamical systems. The result seems suddenly to make sense, but can be confusing because we don’t quite see the ‘how it works’ aspect properly. This ‘system’ is of planetary, or Gaian proportions, and seems to spawn Civilization almost like a hothouse plant.
We can thus use the idea of a ‘system’, taken in a neutral sense. In the end, however, all we need is a careful periodization outline of world history: we need to visualize an empirical pattern. This pattern gives itself away by the simple mechanism it demonstrates, that of a set of transitions. We see, first, the strong resemblance to the idea of punctuated equilibrium.
A Frequency Pattern Our system seems to follow a frequency pattern based on 2400 year intervals which are marked by discrete transitions three centuries in length in an eonic sequence overlaid on a stream universal history:
TP1: Transition 1: -3300 to -3000, relative rise of civilization
TP2: Transition 2: -900 to -600, relative ‘Axial’ interval
TP3: Transition 3: 1500 to 1800, relative rise of the modern
We see these transitions or statistical regions as relative transforms packed with eonic emergents. Note that this third transition switches off in our recent past. And our current action may or may not express the aggregate directionality shown, which is highly complex in any case, comprising multiple parallel streams. Thus the teleology, if any, inferable from the continuation of TP3, may be quite different from that of the overall sequence. We have said that TP3 is a major turning point. We didn’t say that what happened in its wake was, or was not, a bungled continuation. We must define our relationship in the present to this set of observations about the past, and invent, not a postmodern, but ‘post-eonic’, ‘strategy of historical freedom’. Our eonic system is a ‘macroevolution’, but our present behavior must be a ‘microevolution’. Scrambling these two modes is the bane of Darwinism with its nasty Oedipus Paradox.
We have a core pattern, the eonic effect, and a frequency hypothesis. It is important to get a sense of the way we are dealing with relative transformations. Looking at the eonic effect, especially the Axial interval, we see what we can call ‘eonic emergents’, the data that stands out as improbable, and these often look like absolute innovations, but which, on closer examination, often turn out to be amplified relative transformations, spurts of growth, incremental remorphing.
The sunlamp analogue If we turn on a sunlamp in a garden, we see, not the absolute growth of plants from seeds (although that may occur too), but the relative accelerated growth of those plants. The causal domain is contextual and may show two levels. The sunlamp has nothing to do with the ‘causal stream’ of plant growth processes. In the same way history in and outside of the eonic effect is autonomous and proceeds by its own logic. The eonic effect is built in, yet a distinct process.
Unexpectedly we have connected the two ideas of evolution and history, and we can proceed to build this relationship into our model. We have stumbled on a truly global process operating beyond the scale of individual civilizations, and the result is a remarkable realization of an almost Gaian theme of planetary evolution. We need to clarify the way that ‘evolution’ and ‘history’ are connected. The answer to that question is very simple and elegant.
An Evolutionary Driver We can call this a drumbeat or discrete-continuous model because we see a discrete series of drumbeat punctuations or transitions overlaid on a continuous pattern of world history. That gives expression to a sense of something ‘driving evolution’. In our attempt to consider a science of history, using our model, we see how such a science becomes contradictory. We have already wistfully summoned up the idea of a ‘science of freedom’, that has to be our line of attack, at this point. Even such a simple model is quite powerful, and will uncover some hidden properties behind our data.
The data of the eonic effect has an elegant simplicity that matches this type of system model, in its stepping progressions: our punctuations become transitions, three centuries in length (a guesstimate), that switch on an off, in the alternation of a system action and then free activity, or what we have called ‘macro-action’ (instead of causality) and ‘micro-action’ (free activity, which may or may not show ‘free will’). As an example, among dozens, of a ‘discrete-continuous’ process (our original example was that of a computer and its user), a thermostat interrupts a continuous time stream with a discrete series of discontinuous actions. Note that thermostats are not supernatural devices because they exhibit ‘discontinuity’. A more subtle example, if we listen to a concert, we hear the continuous music. But if we listen carefully we will detect a discrete tempo (counting numbers are ‘discrete’), or beat. That’s nice, the absolute minimum example, where the dynamic has been replaced with esthetic productions, leaving only tempo as a mechanical process. So with our ‘eonic’ effect, our drumbeat suggests a tempo. This tempo is a clue to some hidden order, quite invisible in the sequence. This order may be unknowable, but it must show its hand if it has any relation to our world at all. Thus we detect its signature. Tempo is the only property left to analysis after everything else disappears into hypercomplexity. Standard theories won’t work because theories are output of the system.
You can bypass the abstractions of the model and simply follow the general periodization which will spring to life without these abstractions.
The model is designed to never get in the way of the data of history. But, whatever its limits, the model will help clarify the causality problem involved in any attempt at a science of history, and this approach is an order of magnitude superior to the confusions of flat history.
We can see already the dilemma of thinking in terms of ‘civilizations’, as the fundamental unit of analysis (to use a phrase of Toynbee). Our unit of analysis will be the transition itself. An immense amount of wasted effort goes into thinking about civilizations, when the basic dynamics is visible in the transitional intervals. We have one basic unit: humanity, the surface of a globe, and differential time-slices of various streams to generate a global sequence moving toward an oikoumene. The confusion caused by the tribalism of ‘civilizations’ is the tale of a still primitive species.
The Unit of Analysis We should stop thinking of civilizations as the unit of analysis, and instead look at our transitions.
The Myth of the Continents World history tends to be divided into geographical regions as ‘civilizations’ or ‘East’ and ‘West’, or the ‘rise of the West’, ‘western civilization’. Up to a point nothing is wrong with such terms, until we find that nothing is right with them. We can instead take our field as the surface of a globe divided into sectors, where ‘eonic evolution’ steps between zones of relative transformation inside the civilizations. Beyond tribal obsession, there is no such thing as ‘western civilization’. It is a function of global evolution. It is misleading to divide the field into continents. There is one global mainline.ix
Our transition shows a comprehensive character that no individual, so far, can match. We think in terms of the ‘rise of the West’, or of Western Civilization. But this, as noted, misses the point of what we see, the global interconnection of all three of our great turning points. We are starting to see, beyond the ‘civilization’, the issue of what Toynbee called the ‘unit of analysis’, and to something global, as already suggested in our idea of eonic evolution.
From Evolution to History: Deducing the eonic effect We have the key to a new way to unify the evolutionary and the historical. The issue of history and evolution is a confusing one, and it seems as if we are making a category error. In fact, not so. Quite the contrary we have the real clue to evolution. Consider the following question: when did evolution stop and history begin? This tricky question will trip up the Darwinian approach and leave it to collapse in a contradiction. The answer of course is that there couldn’t be an instantaneous switch. We can see that to set a specific date is contradictory. So we must specify a transition between evolution and history. What form would this hybrid take, passing from evolution to history? Either it is all evolution or all history?? Or maybe a series of mini-transitions with evolution dominant then history dominant. In alternation. Now look at the eonic effect: it speaks not just of evolution, but of history and evolution, the two braided together, with history emerging from evolution. And this eonic effect takes the form of a sequence of alternating periods, with evolution (in our sense) dominant during eras of transition, and co-related periods with history (in our sense) dominant. Thus we actually see in history the data matching the deduction about transitions, passing from evolution to history.
If we pursue the eonic effect and its model in detail we find a formal definition of ‘eonic evolution’ and ‘history as free action’ with the two braided together in a drumbeat alternation pattern. This is defined as an ‘evolution of freedom’ in a purely formal fashion. As ‘freedom evolves’ (in this sense) history comes into being. The enigma of the Axial Age, for example, yields at once to this kind of analysis. The question of a category error is irrelevant, really. We assume evolution is solely genetic, and that biologists have the defining standard. But they don’t. The term ‘evolution’ means ‘rolling out’, and ‘eonic evolution’ means the rolling out of civilization in the context of the eonic effect. We see that there is a ‘macroevolution’ involved with this. Note that we use the term ‘evolution’ in a host of contexts, economics, art, philosophy, any category. Do we forbid those too? Those usages are just as valid (and maybe as incoherent) as the Darwinian. Darwin never actually used the word, in his first edition.
The Formalism of Evolution: The Macro/micro distinction We have seen the striking resemblance of the data of the eonic effect to punctuated equilibrium. We will be wary of this idea, but use the formalism of evolution that we developed in the previous chapter. The point is that the alternation of some active process of evolution with equilibrium in the middle is a very general idea that could apply in a host of situations. Since the term has already been defined in a different (and false) way by Darwinists, we will not directly use it, save to note that our historical dynamic shows an obvious pattern of ‘punctuations’ followed by equilibria! In fact the eonic effect gives us the correct framework for any true theory of evolution which will show operation on two levels, macro and micro. As noted already the phenomenon of punctuated equilibrium should really be about the macro component of some evolutionary process or ‘force’, balanced by its micro component. The problem is that it is hard to detect the macroevolutionary component to general evolution, but the eonic effect gives us a spectacular example: we see that we must track data at a finer grain.
Our model is a unification of the idea of evolution and history, in which the macro component will be the so-called ‘eonic sequence’ and the micro component history itself, with human individual action coming to the fore against the backdrop of evolutionary dynamics. This ‘evolution of freedom’ will be the historical chronicle itself.
Thus our transitions represent the macro aspect of evolution (in history) and the periods in between represent the micro aspect of the historical free activity of man. The periods of transitions are themselves historical, of course, but their evolutionary component is visible in the sudden spectrum of creativity and self-consciousness that advances civilization. The sequence of transitions, or eonic sequence, is embedded in history seamlessly and produces a directional component. The conclusion of the eonic sequence is probably taking place in our own era, as the modern transition produces an endpoint of ‘eonic evolution’, human freedom rising in its wake.
An elegant, if at first strange, formulation of the idea of evolution, adapted to the idea of ‘evolution of freedom’.
3.5.2 Stream and Sequence, Transition and Oikoumene
We need a few more ideas that can help us in our descriptive portrait of historical evolution, that of stream and sequence, and of transitions and their oikoumenes. In addition we need to see that economic history is a separate history. We can introduce a new and useful metaphor for the ‘eonic effect’, the stream and sequence relationship. We can use this as another way of describing our eonic series. Another related metaphor is a relay race: a series of runners stream in parallel, but the baton passes between different runners (streams). In the same way, we see a series of streams of culture, their long histories, but a set of short intervals promote a larger ‘sequence’.
Stream and Sequence Consider the dynamics of the Greek or Israelite Axial intervals (or any other for that matter). A stream history leads up to the Axial interval and shows transformation. This transformation generates a higher level step in a greater eonic sequence. This is the ‘stream and sequence’ effect. We now have two levels to our account, the evolution of the stream of cultures, and the evolution of the high level sequence. And this allows us to give expression to ideas of evolutionary directionality and progress at the higher level. Or perhaps progression would be a better word. However, the idea of an eonic sequence allows us to proceed without committing ourselves on generalizations about progress which always end up confronted with various contradictions.
Culture Streams We can think of the historical timeline or streaming of cultures as their continuous chronicle in time, e.g. the Greek stream: the total history of Grecian culture from primordial Indo-European times to the present. The intersection of this stream with the eonic series in the Axial interval produces a distinctive burst of macro-history. We can consider any subset, superset, or other cultural variable in the same way, the science stream, the history of science, the poetry stream, the technostream (technological history), the econostream, the history of economic systems, etc,…
Economic Streams Note that economic history is distinct from the eonic sequence. Economic activity is continuous and globally omnipresent, while the sequence is intermittent. We are coming to see the problem with the ‘economic interpretation of history’: it is a dependent process. Note that the explosion of the Industrial Revolution occurs when an econostream intersects with the eonic sequence.
The Eonic Sequence Our non-random pattern is clear: we see a macrohistorical sequence associated with the emergence of civilization in a long frequency or directionality, analogous to (although not the same as) feedback, able to act on cultural streams in intervals of several centuries. We can reverse-engineer this data with a question, Does world history show evidence of any kind of sequence? The answer is yes, and we see very strong correlation with an intermittent sequence pattern that can only be called ‘evolution’. This sequence is intermittent and intersects with the various streams of culture it finds in its direct path. This sequence can show synchronous parallelism, and follows a frontier effect, as we will see, and works in a kind of leapfrog effect.
Our system generates two kinds of histories, the stream history, and the isolated ‘sequence’ intervals in those streams. Consider the idea of ‘Greek history’, a stream of historical culture. This proceeds throughout the course of world history, from the era of Indo-European differentiation to modern times. It is in some fashion ‘Greek’. But, for some reason, this stream shows a remarkable flowering in the period from -900 to -400. There is no ‘causal antecedent’ or general explanation possible from simple examination of ‘Greek culture’. We are left baffled, until we see that this stream suddenly becomes a part of a larger, eonic, sequence. As the stream and sequence intersect we see the ‘Greek Axial interval’, one of our transitions.
Transition And Oikoumene We need one more idea to describe our eonic series, as we look at the complement to our transitions, the oikoumenes they create. And this leads us naturally into the question of the ‘mideonic periods’, where the center of gravity of history lies. We will attempt below to rewrite our eonic system as an ‘evolution of freedom’. But note that in a system ‘evolving freedom’ the system must finally switch off to allow freedom to develop outside the field of system action. We can see that the initial results in the mideonic periods are mixed at best.
How Evolve Civilization(s)? The eonic sequence shows an ingenious way to ‘evolve’ civilization(s). The whole is too large, work on a series of localized regions. These in turn generate a set of oikoumenes or diffusion fields. The Axial religions begin to spawn universal trans-cultural diffusion fields, armed with literatures able to apply across cultural boundaries, although as we can see, the Old Testament is a curiously sluggish mixture of particularized culture elements pressed into service for ecumenical purposes.
Related to the idea of a ‘transition’, is the mirror image, an oikoumene. The eonic effect is not about civilizations, but the way they are generated, or regenerated. As we studied our sequence we found a definite series of properties that unlock its riddle. The first, as we have seen, is that of sequence and its transitions, and then of parallelism. Another we will come to is the frontier effect. Finally we can consider what we can call ‘sequential dependency’, which is related to diffusion, and to the way the transitions create a high level of culture that tends to create ‘sequential dependency’ in its descendants creating oikoumenes. The question of these transitions can be restated in terms of transitions and oikoumenes, and the sequential dependency of the mideonic period. It is very difficult to transcend this factor of sequential dependency since any attempt to do so might backfire and degrade the eonic sequence from its peak potential. We should hardly wish to do so. We are sequentially dependent on the eonic history of science. We should therefore wish to do science, not react against our sequential dependency to its system generated momentum. In general, each of our transitions creates, if not a new civilization, then a field of diffusion, or oikoumene.
Transition and Oikoumene We can begin to see what our system is up to. Instead of evolving civilizations, we see a series of transitions like time-slices of particular civilizations generating new oikoumenes in their wake.
Fields of Diffusion Each stage of our sequence creates a plateau from which diffusion occurs. The cultures in these fields show a kind of sequential dependency. In many ways the breakthrough to higher civilization at TP1 is unique, to the best of our knowledge, and all subsequent civilizations show a ‘sequential dependency’ due to diffusion from these sources. This does not preempt other independent cultural evolution, but this is likely to be sluggish. This pertains to large-scale civilizational constructs, viz. the onset of State formations. It does not follow that smaller scale anticipations of the future as high culture did not exist very early in other places. But we never hear of them! Our eonic sequence is really about global integration, and pumped diffusion. Our system garlands many long lost cultural innovations. A good example is Buddhism. The ‘Hindu stream’ was an unknown until it regenerates as Buddhism in the Axial interval and then starts its course of globalization.
Another property is the acorn, or frontier, effect: our sequence never steps twice in the same place, but always in an adjacent area just at the fringes of its previous expansion. Notice the way that Egypt and the Mesopotamian fields don’t enter the Axial Age list of areas of transition. A tiny corner of Canaan in between the two takes off and produces a new tradition of religious culture. The Greeks are just at the fringes of the core area of higher civilization. Another spectacular case of the frontier effect is the rise of modernity at the boundary of the Roman Empire. In each case the transitional eras generate oikoumenes, and at the next stage, just at the fringes, the sequence resumes its action. We think this a ‘European’ phenomenon, but that is misleading. We can see already that it is misleading to speak of ‘Western Civilization’.
The Frontier Effect A key property of our eonic pattern is the ‘acorn or frontier effect’. Note that something global is occurring starting in a series of local areas. But the sequence restarts in a new place each time, like an acorn, just at the frontier of its predecessor. The world of Canaan, spawning ‘Israel’, does not look like a frontier now, but in the era of the mythical Abraham it certainly was, and we even have a ‘pioneer’ story about his leaving the city of Ur in a prime diffusion source, the world of prior Sumer. Greece and Rome in the Axial period were definitely still frontier areas, relative to the by then ancient world of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Each of our transitions creates a hotspot, then expands to create a new civilization, better, oikoumene. Cultural acorns sprout in this field, and then at the next cycle one of them becomes a new transition. Note how our sequence is generating ‘evolution in the large’ via local hotspots, ‘short term evolution in the small’. We must study the diffusion fields of our turning points.
This property makes complete sense. If we restart over too far away, the sequence can’t continue. But if we are too close, the momentum of the earlier stage will overwhelm advance or make novelty abortive.
As we pursue our eonic riddle we see that its effects transcend the particulars of individual civilizations. We need to consider a new fundamental unit of analysis, beyond the idea of civilization, in a challenge to Toynbee and Spengler. We see that the key to the whole pattern is the way that our transitions create a series of oikoumenes, perhaps overlapping. Basically the perception of transitions is paired with the formations they generate: a series of cultural diffusion zones that spread out from the source. This reflects the reality better because it reflects what we always actually see, a series of cultural layers superimposed, overlapping, or mixing elements from different sources. And a civilization is a territorial entity, perhaps well-defined thus, but the development overall of the whole system proceeds by the flow of information which is not so geographically bound. This point is essential, since the Axial Age, as with the case of the account of Israel, produces its effect with a series of geographical displacements, the result being a literary document, well able to travel beyond cultural boundaries. The same is true of Buddhism, which almost seems to extract the essence of Hinduism, and create a universal transcultural vehicle.
The Unit of Analysis We notice something strange. Development is occurring over a long interval, longer than the individual civilization. Thus, we have a problem with the use of the term ‘civilization’ in the first case, the ‘birth of civilization’. The eonic effect is transparent, and follows the contours of the mainline of development in the emergence of civilization, and at the same time demonstrates the relationships of all civilizations to each other. It is therefore at a higher level than the ‘evolution of civilization’ (whatever that is). Note the singular and plural usage of the term ‘civilization’. We might be better to speak of one World Civilization. World historians, such as Toynbee, tend to think in terms of civilizations as self-contained dynamic units, while anthropologists in terms of cultures evolving in linear fashion. Toynbee posits some very dubious structure for these civilizations. The cultures of the anthropologists are temporal streams proceeding more or less as static kaleidoscopes from the Paleolithic. The only points of evolution are precisely where they cross the eonic effect. We are not really looking at the evolution of civilizations, but of the stepping stone intervals when the eonic sequence finds a civilization in its mainline.
Econostream, Technostream,…And Eonic Sequence We need to begin to distinguish between technological, economic, and ‘eonic’ evolution. We can see by direct correlation that technological evolution proceeds in many cases outside the eonic sequence, and economies are universal or omnipresent factors of culture. The rise of the modern world is confusing because it is the climax of a long development, and mixes technological and economic breakthroughs in a more abstract cultural evolution that sets the framework. That is our eonic effect, and it transcends economic and technological histories. In the modern case, the three separate components suddenly come together in a tremendous climax, but they should be seen as separate processes. The point is that macro-history in our sense doesn’t control these other sequences. It influences them where they overlap, but, by and large, they are human sources. A man can create something, innovate with a new technology, but that can happen at any time. Technological discovery can happen anywhere, anytime. And economic behavior stretches over vast areas, and occurs at all times. But the eonic sequence is carefully concentrated in its effects. In fact it seems to act by a minimum principle. Suppose you had a limited amount of energy to interact with civilizations, and you wish to act on the whole set of them. How would you do that? The eonic effect shows, amazingly, one way to do that. Pick a set of hotspots, act briefly, hope for good diffusion, and make sure the next time you interact that it is not in the same place, but not to far away to have to start over.
The Greek Axial, by comparison Separating these different components can be done by considering the comparison of the modern transition and the Greek Axial. The structure of the two transitions is roughly the same, yet in the first case we do not see the emergence of capitalism, the printing press, or the technological explosion of modern science.
The eonic sequence is different from the random activity of economies, it stands in relation to a larger pattern. Economies are large fields of economic free agents. Economic activity spreads over a large area, occurs continuously, has its own history. Its dynamic is different. All these things can overlap, interact, but essentially they are different processes. Note that ‘something like capitalism’ is almost present from the beginning of world history, since Paleolithic man starting trading in obsidian. But the intersection, overlap, of ‘econostream’ and ‘eonic sequence’ can sometimes produce a dramatic effect. The Industrial Revolution is a good example. The eonic sequence generates a new form of capitalism. But, from then on the result proceeds as econostream. This approach resolves, by the way, the severe confusions that caused Marxists to tie their heads in knots with incorrect theories. There is something broader than the evolution of economic systems.
In general, in our distinction of ‘eonic determination’ and ‘free action’, technical innovation is a function of the discoverer’s abilities, hence falls into our category, ‘free action’. It doesn’t really need that ‘extra’ from the eonic effect. In a similar way, economies spread out over large areas, indeed globally. These, therefore, also fall into the category ‘free action’. It may of course happen that econostream, technostream, and eonic sequence overlap briefly with spectacular results. A good example is the Industrial Revolution, and one reason we tend to take it as the generator of modernity, but that won’t work.
The truly foundational advances, especially the most elusive cultural ones, tend to be clustered, and, no doubt because they are energy intensive, intermittent. These, and consider for example the case of ancient Greece, tend to be non-randomly distributed, hence are something more than ‘free action’. We assign them to our (undefined, save by periodization and geographical focus) ‘eonic determination’. We cannot avoid this distinction if we see that the innate abilities of members of particular cultural streams are probably evenly distributed in every generation, while periods of great advance are non-random, indeed in a sequential pattern. We see at once why people are puzzled by the Gutenberg Revolution, and the Chinese inventions of gunpowder, printing, the compass. The field of technical innovation can occur at random, hence to the most technically savvy. The flow of these innovations into the eonic sequence supercharges that sequence, but doesn’t cause it. We will note later the strong resemblance of the Greek transition, so-called, to the rise of the modern. Note that the first had none of this technology, while the second surged even further with them.
There is more to history than economics then. Historical materialism, left or right, was a great idea, but it is misleading us. The reason is that while economic activity can obviously influence society, the superstructure, its action is dependent on the social evolution of institutions to make it work at all. The modern world is often said to be a ‘capitalist age’, but that is not really the case, in the sense of a fixed stage of history, in the Marxist sequence. The rise of the modern, the transition, after all, was mercantilist. What we call capitalism suddenly crystallized near our ‘divide’. The general change of culture was very open ended. So far from being the teleological outcome of economic stages of history, the new capitalism is an ad hoc outcome whose effects required and received immediate challenge from the left.