By Steven J. Dick & Mark L. Lupisella
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We must push the envelope beyond mere words, beyond biology. Putting aside as unhelpful the traditional quantitative ideas of information content (of the Shannon-Weiner type, which is admittedly useful in some contexts, but controversial in others) and of negative entropy (or “negentropy,” which Schroedinger first adopted but then quickly abandoned), we return to the quantity with greatest appeal to physical intuition—energy. More than any other term, energy seemingly has a central role to play in any attempt to unify physical, biological, and cultural evolution.
Humans were not much different biologically 10,000 years ago, but one need only look around to see how much we have changed culturally. Yet, unlike the study of biological evolution, which has made great progress since Darwin’s Origin of Species, the scientific study of cultural evolution languished after Darwin’s death for the better part of a century. 3 But if life and intelligence do exist beyond Earth, it is likely that culture will arise and evolve. In this volume authors with diverse backgrounds in science, history, and anthropology consider culture in the context of the cosmos, including the implications of the cosmos for our own culture.
Note the adverb “largely,” for this is not an exercise in traditional reductionism. Of all the known principles of nature, thermodynamics perhaps most pertains to the concept of change—yet change as driven, again for emphasis, by a combination of randomness and determinism, of chance and necessity. ” To be sure, the cosmic-evolutionary narrative is much too complicated to be explained merely by equilibrium thermodynamics—the kind most often used to describe closed systems isolated from their environments and having maximum entropy states.