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Re: The Eonic Effect and the problem of evidence
by Luke Rondinaro
26 September 2002 01:33 UTC
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Mike Alexander wrote: (responses follow)

<I will try to be more specific in my evidence remarks.  The eonic effect (if I understand it correctly) involved the idea of "pulsed" development of human society with an associated frequency of about 2400 years. That is, if we were to plot the "height" of civilization over time we would get a "step-shaped" profile with periodic bursts of development surround by less active periods.>

This “step” metaphor is interesting.  A few years ago I loosely hypothesized a step model from 1500 to 1800 AD for the Rise of Europe in which social/economic change would not have been apparent until 1800 but whose potential was starting at 1500.  Problem is:  It doesn’t work.  If ReOrient is to be taken into account, Europe wouldn’t have “arisen” until the mid to latter 19th century and until that point Asia (esp. China) filled the role of hegemony/core power functionary in the World System largely until Europe’s true (“temporary?”) rise to prominence later on.

A “step” metaphor is fine, but somehow we’d have to go beyond the literary frame of the metaphor to an actual defined, detailed “structure” of such in our social scientific, world historical modeling.  I am not at all sure how we would do it or even if it would be actually possibly or historical valid to do.  Any ideas either on the ‘validity’ issue of it or the modeling of such? …

<The idea of pulsed development in an intriguing concept.  But to discuss issues like this (and indeed any of the ideas in "big history") one has to have a really good idea of what happened during such transitional periods in order to get the dating right.  One also needs to have an equally-good understanding of what happened during the non-transitional periods to verify that change did occur at a substantially slower rate.> 

As per Landon’s response, where he corrects for the mistaken “acceleration” metaphor in the discussion, I can again see yet another problem where confusion results due to our replication of descriptive metaphors (+ explanatory/ analytical models) in trying to put our finger on the Eonic Effect’s processes.  Using a “maps inside of maps” frame of reference (ala David Christian) to sift through the Eonic Effect’s subject matter, it seems our basic confusion here, over the model, arises due to misplaced metaphors – metaphors and analogies which come into play via knowledge maps th/ don’t apply too well or fit in with the system all that smoothly.  All that I can say is: more reason for the model to have a system of flowcharts or diagrams to help solidify its basic concepts [or perhaps a more elaborate notational system for itself & its ideas/dynamics via symbolic logic/set theory]  Otherwise, we end up with one more example of a model caught up in the problems of misleading metaphors [to refer back to my own discussion with Francesco Ranci a few months ago].  I’m of the belief that the model of the Eonic Effect has more than enough epistemological durability to it to withstand the dilemmas created by some of these misleading metaphors; still the idea of a new beginner’s intro. to the model sounds good.  I’m sure it would do a great deal to iron out many of these misleading metaphors and misunderstandings that keep getting attached to the model.

<…The emergence of the Modern World is not well-described as a transition around 1500, but rather the whole process is more of a piece.  If any date is to be marked as a transition, it would be 1348, when the European world was abruptly and dramatically changed forever.  Anyways, we can "map" the 600 BC dates together with the 1800 AD dates as follows:

1300 --> 1100 BC
1500 --> 900 BC
1800 --> 600 BC
2000 --> 400 BC

This mapping is interesting, because it matches up the "collapse" of Medieval civilization in the 14th century with the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization in around 1100 BC.  It is possible that the forces at work in both collapses were similar … >

This is interesting.  And, I would agree the transition to the modern is part of a larger whole – a Seamless Garment; the clear break at 1500 f/ early Modern and Pre-Modern is not so clear a concept.  I, myself, would even talk about a change of phase fr/ 1000 to 1500 (and therein would lie that 1348 date you’ve mentioned as a single point in a larger curve as it were, a flow of steady/unsteady-state change from the Medievalist’s “High Middle Ages” into the “Renaissance” pd.  But again we have a problem.  None of these phases are all that clear-cut.  The phase of change from 1000-1500 ultimately overlaps with the one for 1500 to 1800.  The boundaries of these datings and others end up intersecting one another.  So where does one end and another begin?  It seems we’re into the realm of process philosophy and “fluid dynamism” again.  The question remains: how then do we get from our usual mechanism-based terms and concepts (of social science) to a set of terms/concepts/principles that better account for the kinds of changes we see in the Eonic Effect, complexity, chaos/quantum chaos?  More simply put, how do we move from the realm of solid, distinct quantities (e.g. 1,2, 3 or X, Y,Z) to one where changes, on the level of evolutionary transformations & complex physical systems, flow into one another? … By some means or another, with regards to this model, the problem of misleading metaphors has to be settled.  I’m not sure it can be settled by keeping the Eonic Effect model soley in the domain of verbalized description; at some point I think a mathematic/geometric component will have to be applied (even if is only in analogy to the topological geometries we know and talk about in complex systems research).

John Landon wrote:(responses follow)

<To plot the 'height of civilization over time' seems close to what I am saying, but it is worth keeping in mind the long discussion throwing out the use of the term 'civilization' in the eonic analysis, cf. chapter three where there is a discussion of the fundamental unit of analysis, which is not the civilization, but the transition, etc...>

A few points to consider here.  (1) It sounds as if the replicated phenomenon we’re talking about here is not the [variable] social unit but the variant operator (dynamics/processes/specialized functions) at play in the interaction of social entities in world history.  We could take MA’s structure of comparable datings & add a further dimension of social units P,Q,&R under the operations of (+) “growth in social/ cultural complexity, (-) as social differentiation, and (^)as interactive/integrative social process, and so forth.  Apply these or similar variables/operators to the dating sequence, note the parallels in the operators or process, and there we may have it [at least to a degree][if my symbolization holds up]

<We have a problem thus with measures of anything. We must assess the meaning of what is happening. It is like a play in a series of acts. The only measure is the discrete series of acts. But that tells us little of the play.  More generally, the issue is the seminal creativity of certain areas, and these form a sequence.>

No doubt on the first and second sentences here.  “Meaning” is the central issue to get at the deeper dimensions of the Eonic Effect.  And, yet at some point, the geometry/math issue needs to be considered and dealt with.  Paul Ziolo’s paper on “Chaos, Catastrophe, and Psychohistory” has an excellent point with its “geometrization precedes verbalization” statement; excellent because it squares with the fact that Prehistoric humans were geometrizing far in advance of written language being developed – and yet humankind was certainly as intellectually advanced at the former as they were at their latter state in sociocultural development. But it’s good in another way also.  It squares, I think, with the basic truth that -even given two geniuses from two different cultures in world history, same or different times, it makes no difference – written or spoken language isn’t necessarily the standard by which “intellect” and “culture” is determined in history.  “History” wasn’t made by “writing” at the rise of Mesopotamian civilization; non –literary cultures can be shown to be just as advanced as literary ones given the full variety of knowledges that exist in the human condition.  Jared Diamond’s point in Guns, Germs, and Steel about the West not having an “advantage” even 13,000 years ago over the rest of the world and its populations is well-taken; there was nothing intellectually or culturally or physically distinguishing to the West (Europe, the Mediterranean, Near East) over the rest of the world; others had as much of a shot at a “Rise” in world history as the West did; and thus this carries even to the point of a Rise of Civilization.  I would emphasize this: even at the Rise of Civilization in the Middle East … even at the Bronze Age, non-Western and even non-literate peoples in the world probably, given the right conditions being made available, were just as advanced as the Westerners were and had as much capacity for “Civilizational” achievements as the peoples of the Middle East in Mesopotamia did.  And, even though many of these traditional cultures –Australian Aboriginals, New Guineans, etc. - are now vanishing, they probably still do [even with all our science, technology, arts, and letters].  Point is:  I think the geometry is already there in the dynamics of Eonic Effect; what must be asked is, how its geometry and mathematics might differ from the standard models we use to map complex systems (i.e., dynamic topology …)

<Question of the rise of the modern ... we see, not a date to begin a new era called the modern, but two dates, neither exact, to express an interval relative to world history of a change of direction.  Once we think in terms of a discrete continuous model the use of the term 'evolution' must be changed, for you are quite right, the middle ages is not some primitive state from what modernism evolved. action of emergence ... change of direction In any case, the phase from ca. 1500 to ca. 1800, taken relative to longer time scales ... world system reaching a new major plateau with the innovations to recast the forms of civilization. It is that rough phase that is the unit, the question of evolving from the prior medieval period then set aside.> 

It is very interesting to note that Asia didn’t experience the same “Dark Ages” that Europe did during the period of the Middle Ages.  The Asian advance (esp. with regard to China) begins during this middle period, if not earlier in late Antiquity.  The question that needs asking is WHY?  Is it merely a question of cores/peripheries shifting here, or can we even go back into Greco-Roman times and see and see an Asian-based Core/Center in the World System even then?  … If so, why Asia?  What makes Asia so important in world history and the worldwide world system? …

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