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Systems and Systematic Processes
by Luke Rondinaro
12 August 2002 18:42 UTC
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Dear WSN and Company,


Take a look at the following piece.  It represents both an attempt to synthesize the content/ideas of "Big History" and the "Eonic Effect" with some of the my ideas about science and social science discussed in the thread "Science, Social Science, and Empirical Inquiry."  Take it as my way of trying to summarize and draw some conclusions from our conversations over the last few months.  I hope it's both enlightening and useful.  (Luke R.)




Systems and Systematic Processes:  History and the Object/Process

Substitutions Inherent Therein – Conceptual Maps & Transformations

In the Model of Wave/Particle Indeterminacy and Quantum Fluidity


Here’s my attempt to pull some of the material together that I’ve gotten from David Christian’s essay “Science in the Mirror of Big History” and John Landon’s posts on History and Evolution (with some additional material from his Eonic Effect Website) plus a few of my own developing ideas on the overall topic.


Please pardon the longwinded title, but I do believe it fits well with what I’m trying to say here.


First of all, it might help to spell out the crux of what I’m dealing with here in this piece:  The (worldwide) World System (to borrow this useful concept per AG Frank); however just because I’ve identified my unit for analysis doesn’t mean all is settled regarding the content to be discussed because the time issue still isn’t settled (even) in the long view, neither is the space issue, nor is the substance issue.


Time:  5,000 years is too short a time.  It might be better to go back 9,000 –10,000 y.a. at least in order to situate us at the beginning of both “Civilization” and the more developed manner of world systemic activity developing in the Near East and Anatolia at the time in human events right at the start of the Neolithic.  This makes sense for what we know of the period per Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and because of the increasingly clearer picture provided by archaeo-logical finds at Hacilar, Jericho, and Catal Huyuk.  The complex social formation (termed Society and Civilization) wouldn’t have had its root beginnings later at Mesopotamia but earlier at CH and other sites as indicated by the evidence provided us by archaelogy.  So, in our history of the World System we should probably begin with village development in earlier prehistoric times or if we insist on something later than this we should look at the towns and cities of the Neolithic.


Space:  What is the geographical extent of the World System in the long view?  Does it cover Eurasia only or can it constitute the entirety of populated Afro-Eurasia?  Could it even be extended pre-1450 around the globe to wherever human populations carried themselves to?  Certainly if village formation and “Civilization” as social development constitutes the basic framework of world systems & the age of the WS is pulled back to an earlier time in the Paleolithic, then the periphery of the worldwide system would reach to the Americas.


Substance:  What constitutes the structure of the World System?  Is it merely an interconnected set of economic and communicative relationships existing between ‘societal’ structures and localities with their respective linkages?  Is it mimetically related?  Or following a psycho-historical train of thought, is it a subconsciously grounded group fantasy structure related to the social psychology of human groups and the deep-seated emotional life of individuals in relation to their experiences in groups?  I ‘d sway more towards the latter two understandings in my own view (since it would make sense both from a process philosophy perspective and via the World System’s apparent capacity to bridge the spaces between largely isolated peoples in history regardless of a lack of physical contact/proximity between disparate peoples – whether that disconnect be accounted for by land or by large bodies of water). 


Thus to some extent (just like the photon behaving both like a waves and a particle) the WS acts both like a systematic process and a systematic structure (of socioeconomic relationships between people in human experience).  The World System is a systematic process both on the level of communicative and economic exchanges (socioeconomic behaviors or activities) and on the level of social psychology and psycho-[historical] dynamics.  For, on the one hand, it’s about the operation of economies and communications relays on the macro level of universalized global relationships and human social reality; but, on the other hand, its grounded in the behavioral and psychological dynamics of people engaging in those very socioeconomic/communications I just mentioned. Yet, still, it is structural in nature also.  It’s structural in terms of the physical (material-energetic) relationships that occur between groups people communicating to/trading with each other and it’s structural in terms of the behaviors of persons on a social scale (acting either harmoniously or disharmoniously via their comparative psychologies).  Insofar as material processes of production, exchange, and consumption take place in the socioeconomic sphere [& information/ideas are circulated from one area to another], we’re presented with this one aspect of the World System’s structure.  Insofar as people are (taking part in those activities/acting out their roles in such) plus doing so in the context of recurrent behaviors and mentalities, we’re presented with this other side of the World System’s structure.  Insofar as the physicality of the World System deals with specific material commodities like gold, silver, and the like and how such items relate to production, exchange, & consumption, the structure of the World System is material and rooted in material processes.  But insofar as the WS’s physicality is material-energetic, it cannot be merely encapsulated in materialist, mechanistic models.


What does it mean for the World System’s structure to be material-energetic?  It means we cannot reduce the System’s integrative complex to being just material stuff being moved around in a (soley) mechanical fashion. 


{{Even when we discuss “matter” and its “processes” in the social sciences, we must bear in mind this solid, continuous ‘stuff’ is not as solid or continuous as we superficially perceive it to be.  It is as fundamentally indeterminate as wave/particle photons and electron clouds are.  The issue is as much about the physical forces and energy relationships existing within material substances and entities as it is about the essential “what-ness” and “stuff-ness” of material things.  There isn’t just “matter” over here in the cosmos and “energy” & “forces” over there; they are all inexorably intertwined in the essentialities we call material substances.  But does this fact even matter in the social sciences?  Yes it does, because unless we keep such facts in mind, we’ll misunderstand just what is these material commodities are that we use to produce our technologies, to trade, and consume.  Such misunderstandings transform our social science from a science that attempts to understand the dynamics of social activity in the ontological and socio-behavioral sense to a more mechanized, materialistic science that’s useful only to urban planners and/or social service agencies (where we learn how ‘stuff’ has been divvyed up in the past and now in the present so we can learn how to better divvy it up in the future, how to better construct cities and highways and move increasing larger populations through them to places they either need to go to or where either social elites, business owners, and politicians would like them to go, and so on).  These misunderstandings produce an incorrect Newtonian fundamentalism, an out of date scientism that’s become defunct with Quantum Theory and Einsteinian Relativity as well as the other developments in contemporary [20th and now 21st) Scientific theory.}}


{{When we discuss “matter” in the social sciences, it is no less material-energetic and fluid-dynamic than it is the natural sciences.  The very structure of the World System and world-systems is energy-based rather than being materially-based.  Social groupings, social processes, and relationships are all based in deep-structured psychosocial behaviors and recurrent activities of people.  When people buy, sell, consume, and produce, there’s an obvious output of energy to what they do.  But what’s truly revolutionary in Modern Science is that the dividing line between what we call “matter” and term as being “energy” is blurred   Energy isn’t just the way in which change matter or manipulate it for this or that purpose we have.  “Matter” is “energy” (in as much as “energy” becomes increasingly and sometimes visibly structured, as is the case with the many material substances we come across in our day to day lives).  In an analogous way, the World System and its socioeconomic, political and cultural frameworks are energetically-structured.  Thus, conceptually speaking “process” becomes “object” in this systematic sense and “object” becomes “process” in our study of social scientific frameworks.}}


The World System and Evolution


Is the World System as Process the same thing as World History or Evolution?  If it is, does that mean the WS is nothing more than Hegel’s World Spirit by another name?  Well, yes and no.  Is there a self-containing process of change at work in human events?  Yes, but it’s no more and no less “mystical” than any natural phenomena we encounter in our daily experiences.  My very action, natural as it is, of reaching down to the keyboard to type this posting is just as “mystical” as what occurs with human experience in history.  History itself is just as natural as rainstorms and ocean currents although in some ways it is something bigger than any of these natural phenomena and odder because it involves people and their free agency.  History is not the exclusive domain of spiritual forces in the world – God, angelic powers, human soul – in any more of a real way than are any other natural processes we experience throughout our lives (despite what religionist historians might tell us).  Both are equally “spiritual” and “natural/physical.”  Yet when we get to the level macro-process dynamics, we still end up being faced with the question what is this thing we’re calling the World System and is it really just another name for World History and/or Evolution?  The answer to this question would be “yes” if we understand the structure/function of the WS – 5,000 Yrs or more - is itself probably a subset of the larger evolutionary process in human affairs?  World History (or “Big History”) could be equivalent to Evolution, however this does truly redefine much of the classical criteria of what constitutes history.  A more suitable map for discussing human affairs has to be chosen because the dev’p’mnt of writing can no longer fit the bill as to the point when history begins.  Yet neither may pictorials (cave paintings/iconic representation) or language fit the bill either.  Some other mental map (or maps) has to be chosen in order to identity the point when human intellectual mapping itself (& the symbolism which is a driving feature of it) can be seen to have begun [and thus started the ball rolling on other social developments and re-wired mental developments in the long view of humanity’s maturation as a species].  So, even here World History as beginning from this point in human experience might also be an evolutionary subset in the much larger evolutionary process.  Again we see such object-process substitutions as an inherent part of such evolutionary/world historical/world systemic frameworks.


Substitutable Maps inside of Maps


Substitution (/substitutable maps) seems to be the key to such phenomena.  For, on the one hand we have the cosmos itself and how events led up to humanity existence here on the earth [“Big History”].  Contained within this “Big History” we also have the story of how we arrived at the point of being modern humans (homo sapiens sapiens) in the biological and psychobiological sense [Evolution].  This Evolution can be further subdivided into biological evolution and the socio-cultural evolution of human experience.  Then from the latter, we have the development of World History, the World System, and Psychohistory.  Evolutionary development from the PH standpoint proves to be one of the most interesting considerations around in modern academia.  Indeed there was the evolutionary development in Prehistory which led to the rise of the human mind as we now know it and then to Civilization, etc, but there is an ongoing evolution of the human mind continuing to this day in which the emotional and overall psychological well-being of individuals and groups is bound up with.  The maps with which people functionally “see” their world have changed and developed from the dawn of human history up to the Present.  Yet World History and the World System are no less interesting or pertinent to our lives today.  For along with every “group fantasy” that pops up in human events for every period of history, there is a concomitant macro development on the level of sociogenic causal dynamics and environmental /ecological processes.  The evolution of the “macro” [in World History] is as ongoing as the evolution of our intrinsic maps for seeing the world in a psycho-historical sense.  And, in terms of the World System, evolutionary development can be seen as being an ongoing process there also.  For through all the “ups” and “downs”, “A-Phase expansions” and “B-Phase Crises” of the human community and its macro-structures, there are always increasingly developing levels of interaction/interconnection and human integration taking place on both the global Systemic plain and in the longer view of world history.


Within the World Systemic Process itself are positioned a number of other world-systemic units and processes.  At the center is the World System itself.  It works both as a global socioeconomic network of communications exchanges and trade networks between groups of people around the world and as a memetic or psychohistorical development within the human mind that allows for such extrinsic connections to be created/built up and take place in human affairs.  Within this larger structure/process are a number of other world-systems and subsystems.  For instance, we have the Afro-Eurasian World System of the past 5,000 or more years (per AGF), the Thirteenth Century World-System (per Janet Abu Lughod) and Wallerstein’s European-centered “Modern World System.”  Yet within these WS scenarios, there are a number of other geographically and temporally-based world-systems that exist alongside them, adjoin, and/or or part of them.  For even as the Thirteenth Century WS played out in Northern Africa and Eurasia, other contemporaneous systems played out in the rest of the world – whether they were geographically adjoining (the rest of Africa) or not (the Americas, oceanic island-based systems, and so forth).  Then within each of these larger world-systems are identified a number of world subsystems.  Structurally and conceptually speaking, these sub-systemic units are broken down into “cores”, “peripheries”, “semi-peripheries”, and the like, “hegemons”, socioeconomic powers in “rivalry”, with their own distinct production modes, trade balances, divisions of labor, etc.  Ontologically and sociobehaviorally-speaking, such units break up into trade exchanges, communicative networks, the specific linkages that take place between the nodes and lines of material trade exchange & information/idea relays, and the localities that constitute the such ports of call and nodes in the System.  And, inherent within each of these structures is a substitutable process – and vice versa for processes in the System.  Again we have substitutable maps within maps; and although by and large, “Eonic” Evolution/”Big History” is the basic template for all these other dynamics/structures I’ve discussed, it (or they) too act(s) as subset(s)/substitutions for other basic phenomena in the cosmos. 


The key to all this complexity and interchangeable concepts/phenomena is a mathematics of pure relationality.  Aristotelian-Scholastic metaphysics was perfectly correct in its modes of being principle (“Substance” and the nine modes of “Accident[al]” being).  Problem was:  “substance” is substitutable in terms of any of the nine “forms of limited being” – quantity, quality, relation, action, passion, where, when, posture, and habit.  Each term is interchangeable with and expressible by way of any and all of the other terms.  Infinite digression is possible within such a framework, however what’s important is not the replication of each and every perfectly substituted term in the original sequence to the nth degree but the replicable patternization of such substitutions in those contexts we study.  Thus, it’s unimportant to derive formulas and expressions out to an iterative infinity; it’s only important to derive them out to a point in which we recognize patterns in such expansions. 


This is all pretty heady stuff I admit, but it’s my attempt to draw some synthesis to all this material we’ve been discussing (esp. the information and ideas of both the “Eonic Effect” and “Big History”).  I hope you all find it both insightful and thought-provoking.  If you’ve any comments, suggestions, or questions, please raise them either to me personally by email or post to the WSN List.  I look forward to your responses. 




Luke Rondinaro

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