InterJournal Complex Systems, 799
Status: Accepted
Manuscript Number: [799]
Submission Date: 2004
An evolutionary systems view of civilizational sustainability
Author(s): John A. Broadbent

Subject(s): CX.4

Category:

Abstract:

The perspectives of four researchers were used to generate critical insights into the processes of civilizational change and, hence, the key issue of civilizational sustainability: * Tainter's(1988, 1996) understandings of systems complexification as an enduring sociocultural problem-solving strategy, and their implications for addressing issues of civilizational sustainability * Beach's(2003) elaboration of past studies into increasing competency of information handling as key to ongoing sociocultural evolution * Corning's(2003) examination of the role of synergies in accelerating both biological and sociocultural evolution * Goonatilake's(1999) exploration of current mergings between major information lineages - biological, sociocultural, and technological The following insights into civilizational sustainability were generated by juxtaposing the findings of these four studies: * Complexification has been a central problem-solving strategy of humans through time * This strategy will likely have a key role in realizing civilizational sustainability * This complexification will result in particular from the mergings of information lineages(e.g biological with technological) and from mergings within individual information lineages(e.g. the convergence of digital technologies, the likely future convergence of biotechnologies) * These mergings will generate numerous synergies at all system levels; these synergies, in turn, will further accelerate sociocultural evolution * The ability of socioculture to cope with this increasing complexity will depend largely on the development and deployment of more effective information systems, in particular those which operate across information lineages Four existing complex systems - 3G mobile phones, fully implantable total artificial hearts, mass customization, and in vitro fertilization - were examined as case studies of mergings within and between various information lineages. Information was gathered for each complex system with respect to its applications, its information systems, methodological issues, types of complexity exemplified, key synergies, key ethical/moral issues and sustainability issues. The intent was to better understand current human competencies in the creation and management of highly complex dynamic systems. The implications of these case studies for civilizational sustainability are discussed. References: Beach, J. 2003, The transition to civilization and symbolically stored genomes, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, vol. 34, pp. 109-141. Corning, P. 2003, Nature’s magic: synergy in evolution and the fate of humankind, Cambridge UP, New York. Goonatilake, S. 1999. Merged evolution: long-term implications of biotechnology and information technology. Amsterdam: Gordon & Breach. Tainter, J.A. 1988, The collapse of complex societies, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, UK. Tainter, J.A. 1996, ‘Complexity, problem solving, and sustainable societies’, In Costanza, R. Segura, O. & Martinez-Alier, J(Eds) Getting down to earth: practical applications of ecological economics, Island Press, Washington DC.

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