Cosmos and Culture by Steven J. Dick & Mark L. Lupisella

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By Steven J. Dick & Mark L. Lupisella

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Here, the emergence of technologically intelligent life, on Earth and perhaps elsewhere, heralds a whole new era—one where life, in its turn, has gradually come to dominate matter. This second of two great transformations was not triggered by the origin of life; rather, it is technologically advanced life (perhaps as early as the onset of agriculture yet at least by later industrialization) that differs dramatically from primitive life and from other types of inanimate matter scattered throughout the universe.

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. All structures, whether galaxies, stars, planets, or life-forms, are demonstrably open, nonequilibrium systems with flows of energy in and out being a central feature. And it is this energy, often called available, or “free,” energy—literally the ability to do work—that helps to build structures.

Part 2 focuses on cultural evolution itself, and as such is dominated by authors in the social sciences and humanities. Kathryn Denning, an anthropologist at York University in Canada who has become deeply involved with the SETI community, provides an overview of the field of cultural evolution, or “social evolution” as she terms it. She makes it clear why the field is a difficult one fraught with dangers, even in the terrestrial context. One of the central problems in the field has been the lack of a robust theory, but toward that goal the philosopher Daniel Dennett, the author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, supports the notion of memes (the cultural equivalent to genes) as a cultural evolution model, and finds that cultural possibility is far less constrained than genetic possibility.

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