Re: World Systems, General Systems: Coevolution

Tue, 22 Apr 1997 16:12:37 +0100
Richard K. Moore (

4/22/97, Bruce McFarling wrote:
> What are the relationships, if any, between the more general
>approaches to studying concrete systems such a general systems theory
>and "world" systems theory?
> The question re-occurs to me as I finish Sanderson's "Social
>Transformations" book, in which Sanderson forcefully argues, contra
>the GS perspective, that all macroevolutionary change is simply the
>aggregate of microevolutionary change in individual behavior.
>...further on Sanderson
>argues in a way that seems to imply that macroevolutionary change is
>*constituted by*, but *not* reducible to, microevolutionary change: that
>is, that macroevolutionary change is *more* than a mere aggregate of
>microevolutionary change, even if it is obviously constituted by
>microevolutionary change...

Let's step back from these trees for a moment and consider the systems
evolution forest.

Yantsch (The Self Organizing Universe) offers an interesting perspective on
general system evolution, and, by the way, tells an extremely interesting
story. He emphasizes parallel co-evolution of the macro and the micro
levels as a central theme in the universe's evolutionary development.
Collateral evolutionary changes at one level enable the next
evolutionary step to occur at the other level. For example, stars (esp
nova) - themselves the result of long macro-level cosmic evolution - create
the first heavy elements which then enable the micro-evolution of richer
molecular structures and eventually life. Micro-level life then enables
the evolution of a biosphere (Gaia) which has planet-scale adaptive
behaviors, and hence a new macro-level entity is born.

Another example would be the co-evolution of small-life (cells, bacteria,
viruses) and large-life (plants, animals). Man, for example, has
co-evolved along with a certain line of brain cells.

In the domain of societal systems one might consider the city. It
macro-evolved from village and town ancestors, while human roles
micro-evolved toward ever greater specialization. The city, in turn,
becomes a primary component in the further macro-evolution of economic,
social, political, and transport systems (among others).
A classic example is London - whose existence as the heavily
dominant internal British market (circa Elizabeth I) led to regional
production specialization. Regions learned to competitively produce things
for export to London markets, and London learned to shop among regions for
best value. Infrastructure such as canals arose. From there it was
natural for producers to seek other markets besides London (ie foreign) for
their products, and for London to encourage development of new (ie foreign)
production regions. Thence empire - with London always as the proud
symbolic center.

World Systems, I hope the preceding helps to convey, needs to recognize an
interlinked collection of co-evolving systems (economics, communication,
transport, political, social) each of which has micro and macro co-evolving
aspects - and all of which together can also be seen as a Gaia-like macro
organism which begins to exhibit self-promotional behaviors (ie