The Origin, Evolution, and Functions of Societies and Beyond

4-29-05  041815

New Dimensions of Existence

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The Main Dimensions of Societies

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Virtual Societies, Super-Societies, a Super-Brain?

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This essay is only Part 4 of a larger essay. 

Read the full essay by going to “Evolution:  Understanding Physical and Mental Existence”

That essay is now available in the following separate sections:

1.  Cosmogony, Cosmic Evolution, Evolution of Earth

2.  Origin of Life, Molecular Biology, Natural Evolution, Humans

3.  The Origin, Evolution and Function of the Human Mind

4.  The Origin, Evolution, and Functions of Societies and Cultures (this essay)

5.  “Intelligent Design Theory” as opposed to Natural Evolution

6.  Extraterrestrial Intelligence?  What could it Mean to Us?

7.  The Future and Expected End of Mankind and the Universe

8.  Closing Comments and Conclusions

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Content of “The Origin, Evolution, and Functions of Societies and Beyond”:

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Introduction                                                                                                                  1

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1.  The Origin of Societies:  Another Step of the “Combinatorial Principle”            2

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2.  The Main Dimensions of Societies                                                                         4

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3.  Virtual Societies, Super-Societies, a Super-Brain?                                              12

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Introduction:

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When we pause for a moment in our busy life – at lunch, during a holiday, on vacation – we can perceive the wonderful and sometimes cruel existence we live in – the universe, nature on this planet Earth, our surroundings, our body, our mind.  In trying to understand this existence, we find that everything in our world is evolving – has always been evolving and will continue to do so.  If we want to understand our existence, we should attempt to understand this evolution.

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Not too many years ago, one of the early NASA space projects provided the very first and rather beautiful pictures of Earth as seen from outer space.  Astronomic telescopes had already provided excellent pictures of distant galaxies.  Now we could visualize how our own “Milky Way” galaxy would look with the tiny spot of our Sun as one of a billion others somewhere in its outer reaches – and a still smaller, blue planet, "Earth”, whirling around that tiny sun – about four billion times already since its appearance.  That small Earth is our only home, but our brains that evolved only a few ten thousand years ago allow our minds to span the universe in time and space.  What were the starting conditions, principles, laws, and forces of nature that let this evolution occur?

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Recent progress in astronomy has taught us how our universe originated in one spot some 14 billion years ago and has been expanding in all directions ever since.  What happened in time and space that, out of the original burst of energy at that time, finally we humans, with all our exceptional talents, came to exist and live on this tiny planet where we now are – and to develop the mental capabilities we now have?

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A few key aspects of Creation and evolution appear to be fundamental to the understanding of what occurred.  They are especially surprising and impressive [1]

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Come along on a mental voyage – to explore the existence which we live in – from the vastness of the universe to submicroscopic molecular life, the virtual phenomena of the mind, and unfolding civilizations – from an origin in the distant past to an expected end in the distant future!

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This essay is only one part (Part 4) – on the origin, evolution, and significance of societies and cultures.  It is part of a larger overview of all of existence in the essay “Evolution: Understanding Our Physical and Mental Existence”, to be found  on the website www.schwab-writings.com in the Section on “Science and Evolution”.

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1.  The Origin of Societies:  Another Step of the “Combinatorial Principle”

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The origin and foundations of societies can be found in forces of group coherence that evolved on account of their benefit to the group and became genetically anchored, in ethical behavior:  the supporting care for others, cooperation, and sacrifice for the common good, see Chapter 3.1.1.

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In that sense, the origin and formation of societies corresponds to a basic phenomenon of nature.  The combination of atoms to form molecules, the combinations of cells to form complex organisms, or the combination of words to form sentences can be loosely compared to the combination of individuals to form complex societies. 

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In becoming a member of a society, the individual loses or surrenders part or all of his or her independent behavior and gains significance in his place within the higher order of things.  Not only behavior, but also individual thought may have to be adjusted to integrate into society.  Even the lead individuals may be influenced in their behavior and, in their minds, playing the role that they assume to be expected of them by their followers, sometimes being more pushed by the crowd than leading.  This acting, as presumed to be expected by the respective “society” or group, is quite pronounced in political parties, but also in industrial or charitable organizations.  It can lead to differences in ethical judgment or behavior when acting for or within the group, as compared to acting in the private sphere.  This can also lead to greater heroism of individuals being part of a group (as in a military unit) or to senseless stampedes in a crowd.  Such descriptive observation can lead to prescriptive suggestions to facilitate behavior change or behavior maintenance.  For example, it has led to the formation of congregations by religious movements – or to the removal of sect members from their group to allow them to return to balance.

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There are a number of predecessor phenomena to human societies to be found in nature:  the swarm of fish, birds, or insects, the herd or the pack of animals, the human family, and the tribe.  They all are examples of the above-mentioned “Combinatorial Principle” of evolution.  There are observations in nature indicating that “swarms” of individually judging organisms demonstrate a “wisdom of crowds” by averaging individual error rates in danger avoidance or resource location.  The history of successful cultures may indicate the same – but the phenomena of mass hysteria tell another story, even in their milder forms, where judgments can be correlated and errors magnified.

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These predecessor phenomena present a variety of characteristics.  Swarms of fish or birds do not seem to have any hierarchies or leaders, yet are able to act in unison, as in the direction of their movement.  Herds or packs of animals have a primitive structure, with different roles for males and females and certain lead animals, which can direct the motion of the herd and have preference in procreation.  The most differentiated are some insect swarms (for example, bees) with physical differentiation of individuals by function and extreme subordination of individuals under the common interest.

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The human family used to function in a similar way as certain animal packs – especially in early times when having been multigenerational and including unmarried relatives and subordinated auxiliary members.  There was the lead-individual, mostly male, occasionally female.  But, with the availability of language, there was discussion or debate.  As siblings split away from the core family but stayed in the neighborhood, practical reasons of cooperation in complex tasks (hunt, construction of large buildings), defense, conquest of new territories, and common resource-utilization (allocation or irrigation of fertile ground, partition of fishing catch) necessarily led to the evolution of additional structures, ultimately resulting in societies.  The groups of humans with strong bonds of society coped better and prevailed – but the ones with excessive rigidity lacked innovation.  Thus, our modern type of human behavior as a social beings evolved. 

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The history of the fall or decay of civilizations is another story – of succumbing to superior weaponry of invaders, to better leadership, or in consequence of their own civic decay.

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But first some comments on the origin and evolution of societies: 

The invention of husbandry and agriculture, the generation of surplus resources and idle time, and population growth with consequent warfare for needed territory led to the evolutionary formation of larger social units with more important political, military, and religious hierarchies, served by more subordinates occupied in the military, trades, arts, commerce, and rituals.  Large societies, beyond extended clans, began to emerge, possibly first in Sumeria, southern Mesopotamia, sometime before 3,000 BC – not very much later on the Nile and among the Dravidians on the upper Indus River and in the south of India – all rather soon connected by trade.  Additional societies became connected through wars and commerce.  This led to the exchange of ideas and the acceleration of cultural evolution.[2] A similar, but totally disconnected development took place in Central America, first possibly in the coastal area of Peru near Caral, north of Lima, but later also in other places.

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As societies evolved, became larger and more complex, complex systems for communication, command, and control necessarily evolved – in a balance between specialization and coordination.

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The evolution of human societies seems to indicate that there are trade-offs between emphasis on individuality and adherence to common behavior, between freedom and order, between stability and evolution.

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It is interesting to note that societies do not necessarily have any permanent material substance.  They can move from building to building.  Their individual members are exchanged through aging or hiring-and-firing.  Their inventories or financial resources are just cycled through.  The essence of societies is abstract, consisting only of their configuration (Gestalt), and even that may be evolving in time – similar to what was mentioned about human existing, where the material content of the body may be cycled through and evolve while the “human individual” remains as such.

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2.  Main Dimensions of Societies 

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The new dimension (with the concept of “dimension” to be understood as a specific aspect or expression of existence in the universe) of human “society” had never appeared before and was now evolving beyond the primitive predecessor phenomena described above.  As indicated, societies resulted from the fact that individuals adjusted or subordinated their behavior in order to facilitate group action.  Such adjustment or subordination was based on a variety of constellations in either forced dominance-submission schemes or on habitual or voluntary consensus-building, resulting in a large variety of structures of society, from loose brotherhoods to hordes, oligarchies, democracies (with a large variety of interpretations of inclusiveness and civil rights), monarchies (of different types, from absolute to constitutional or elective), tyrannies (including consensus of the ruled or not), and dictatorships.  [3]

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Societies, in many ways, are similar to organisms, including their urge for survival, noticeable even among the smallest clubs and political, social, or charitable organizations.  This may result not only from commercial interests of employees, but also from the fact that many individuals as members of societies see part of their personal – at least mental – existence anchored in the association with such a society, seeking to protect that aspect of their existence. 

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Our culture may still supremely value the individual – its freedom,  its meaning of life in personal development and expression, and in its rights –, but, as a matter of fact, the significance of individuals in our time is often seen in direct proportion to their significance in or for our society.

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In a functioning society, one can observe the evolution of the following “dimensions” or aspects of its expression:

-        Various forms of coordination, dominance or submission between individuals or groups

-        Establishment and maintenance of law and order

-        Various methods of consensus-forming

-        Culture (including ritual, fashion, art, and formulation of values)

-        Politics (methods of governance)

-        Economics and Commerce

-        Technology development, industry, transportation

-        Education and research organizations

-        Religious organizations, churches, monasteries, religious hierarchies

-        Military establishments for protection and organized warfare

-        Welfare for the poor and medical systems for the sick

-        The unique function of literature and the media

-        Directions of societies (religious foundation and proselytizing, commercial, freedom, conquest)

-        Personality-like characteristics of societies (for example, aggressive versus peaceful)

and more

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Coordination does not require dominance by the few and may occur by common self-interest or common exposure to external forces, for example, in “free market” scenarios.  Dominance, occurring in various forms of more or less intense command and control in all types of government, implies the imposition of will or force on others [4] – often justified by external dangers (or “market failures” in economic terms) – but those dangers being equally often caused by government failures (“non-market failures”).  Mental dominance can occur among individuals or among groups.  The consequence of dominance is submission – if not evasion.  This establishes a basic structure among groups of people and evolves into a rudimentary “society”.  In sophisticated societies or organizations, dominance or submission is voluntary, as in the political order, in police action in traffic control, in organizational structures in industry, or in command structures in the military.  In any event, the proper institution of dominance and submission schemes is the foundation of a functioning “society”.

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The establishment and maintenance of law and order and, in this sense, confidence-building among its members serves not only emotional needs but serves the efficiency of all forms of operation (in economic terms, “lowering of transaction costs”).  This leads back to the discussion of ethics and moral laws with their foundations in both, emotions and utility.  This maintenance of law and order actually takes place not only formally through laws, a legal system, and the police, but also informally through accepted cultural values and behavior.  Full regulatory control would be cumbersome (see the orthodox Jewish multiplicity of laws), if not impossible, since life’s evolution can never be fully predicted. 

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Consensus-forming, also occurring in various forms in all types of government, is the process of influencing and coordinating the focusing, selective observation, and preference-weighing of a group of individuals.  The first scientific observation of the behavior of multitudes in uncertainty and their formation of consensus was done and expertly described by the early sociologist Gustave Le Bon.[5]  For example, he describes how “masses” of people in uncertainty may mill around for a while, consider one or another alternative solution, until one solution gains increasing attention and, finally, unites the multitude to act in a certain direction.  This process, appearing more “democratic” than the phenomenon of arbitrary dominance, may appear as the quintessential evolution from individual to group existence – where not the individual leads a singular existence, but the group or “society” is the principal phenomenon of existence, with the individual just being an element of it, like a cell in an organism.  Individuals with divergent opinions are swept along, unable to exist independently of the group.  The majority of individuals assume behavior consistent with or for the benefit of the group.  This is also visible with the behavior of individuals in modern industrial organization.

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“Free markets” in our time attempt to provide efficient information processing and decision making mechanisms in a very complex world.  On the other hand, the global character or the free market and the inherent global dangers in market failures let the need for global governance appear more urgent.  Such failures may be not only of economic nature, but include ecological dangers as, for example, global warming.

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Consensus forming on a large scale does not necessarily imply homogeneity (generally more efficient), but may leave justification for diversity resulting in higher flexibility.

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Culture is a fuzzy linguistic concept, often describing the totality of a society’s characteristics.  As a general definition, it can include a society’s common world view, values (including human rights in politics, civic obligations, and common heroes or role models), type of education, rituals, habits, artistic expression, language, religion, and common history, as when talking about the “culture” of a specific ethnic group or geographic area. 

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In a narrow definition, “culture” refers more specifically to the world of the arts: the offering in theaters, concerts, museums, libraries, the production of literature, and architecture (see the essay, “Aesthetics, Art, and Culture” on the website www.schwab-writings.com.), as when talking about the “cultural life or character” of a city.  It is amazing how much of private resources are spent for embellishment in each home and of public resources for embellishment and the cultural offering in each community.

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In the unending evolution of higher forms of existence, multi-level hierarchies of cultures have evolved – for example, the superimposed cultures of nations over provinces (for example, of “America” over “Texas”, of “France” over “Provence”, of “Germany” over “Bavaria”) and of federations or continents over nations (for example, of “Europe” over “France”) – with often Darwinian evolutions as in biology. 

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The phenomenon of large-scale immigration in the Western countries has led to another form of cultural hierarchy, with the historically local culture being seen as the one to maintain the direction of society (see the German discussion of  Leitkultur and the corresponding French discussion of the dominant French culture in France).  In the USA, the discussion is not focused, remaining on the general level of acceptance of “diversity” but insisting on a common history and values derived from the time of the founding of the American society in the 18th century and its early development thereafter (see the reciting of American values in work ethics, family, and the political structure).  It will be interesting to observe whether the American – and now, united European – society can ever do without a uniting “culture” and how it will be defined as the joining of new nations in Europe and large-scale immigration in the USA continue.  And how about the United Nations attempting to form a super-national world society¾on the basis of what culture?  Can America and Europe be covered by the same “culture” as Iran, Iraq, China, India, Lesotho, and Tovalu?

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Politics is the art of getting some action in governance without dictatorial dominance – often in the form of establishing policies.  It is a form of consensus-forming and, sometimes, manipulation among individuals for the purpose of directing society at large – if not for gaining personal power.  It implies “leadership” (strength of character, charisma, psychological impact), conviction, persuasion, favoritism or networking, barter of votes and support, threat or blackmail, excellence in having better information or skills, and capability for fundraising.  Politics also includes the manipulation of mass psychology to get public support, to remain in power, or to be reelected – this often being the highest goal for politicians.  In this sense, politics can be the highest calling for an individual who wants to serve the common good, a form of intellectual art for the greatest benefit of society, it may also require some realistic practicality – or it can be misused.

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In this sense, politics presents an evolution of human thought and creativity to other dimensions than individual life, the dimensions of society, not functioning individually, but always in the context of a multitude of interacting individuals, within the organism of society.

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Economics and commerce are the result of an evolution from a subsistence way of life or forced change of possession as in banditry or war to the controlled allocation and exchange of resources.  “Economics” became an academic discipline investigating all economic activities, subdivided into microeconomics and macroeconomics.  Commerce basically consists of the bartering of unequal objects or services between distinct entities, individuals or groups.  Commerce is necessarily connected with logistics for the storage and transportation of goods, whether of agricultural or industrial origin.

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A key element in the evolution of this phenomenon of society was the invention of money.  Initially, money was seen as a step in bartering by presenting the underlying amount of a rare or noble material (gold, silver, or copper) as the substance of currency.  As this equivalence was removed, currency has no substantive “real value” any longer and has acquired “virtual value”.[6]  The value now is largely controlled by a government’s money-printing practices and setting of central interest rates.  This brings us to “interest rate”, which results from the abstract “time-value” of a resource, as another phenomenon not applying to individual life (or could it?), but evolving with society.  

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In further evolution of the phenomenon of money, we now have the complexity of international currency exchange rates, with their potentially great significance for the prosperity of nations, see the Chinese political manipulation by attempting to keep their currency pegged to the US dollar at an extreme rate favoring their exports and, hence, their employment level and political stability while the USA, consequently, experiences great unemployment problems.  In other words, not virtual economic value, but equally “virtual” political considerations become the determining factors in currency value and, consequently, commerce.

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Furthermore, there are the often ancient instruments of toll, import duty, taxation, or subsidies to impact or control commerce – all phenomena nonexistent in a world of individuals or family units and evolved in the course of the appearance of societies. 

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Value assessments of alternatives in multidimensional, probabilistic situations are facilitated by the intriguing, abstract economic concept of “utility” (corresponding to value assessment in emotional or ethical situations). [7]

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Commerce is influenced largely by the psychological assessment of the future among the buying public or among industrial organizations.  Confidence in the future or apprehension actually impact purchasing selection and, more so, purchasing volume – specifically in the stock market.

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Another important evolution in consequence of commerce is the establishment of contacts with other cultures resulting in idea exchange between different cultures and consequent cultural evolution

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Commerce led to the spread of religions, first, of Hinduism, then of Islam throughout Indonesia as far as commerce reached – that is, up to the Spice Islands in the Moluccas (Ternate for cloves and the Sundas for nutmeg).  It may now assist in the spread of democracy.  Commerce benefits from political stability.  Consequently, commerce supports stability in society.

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Technology development, initially slow in human evolution, accelerated with the generation of energy from water mills, then steam power and later electricity or atomic energy, leading to mass production of goods in industry, innovations in transportation (railroads, large ships, cars, airplanes), and finally to the world of electricity and electronics for communication and data processing.  Not only did a large portion of the population find employment in industry and transportation, but specific organizations formed and began to influence society’s life.

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Education (beyond training in the military or the trades) began as an individualistic, elite pursuit, selectively supported by religious organizations.  Evolving societies (after the Enlightenment, French Revolution, and Socialism) brought education to every citizen.  Research in technology and the sciences had also been an individualistic, elite pursuit.  In the 19th century, educational reform in Germany combined education with research in the universities – soon also implemented in the United States.  Special research organizations supported by industry followed.  This evolution brought research to the awareness of society, attracted public funding, and accelerated its progress.

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Religious organizations, a typically human consequence of religious movements, led to the building of meeting rooms for religious assemblies, education and devotion – the churches or synagogues.  The idea for monasteries probably came from the India of Buddha’s time.  Governance of the monasteries and, more so, the maintenance of religious dogma in evolving thought led to religious hierarchies – based on the ancient priestly order of ritual and as typical for human nature. 

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A power struggle within society between religious and political hierarchies was the logical consequence – in some countries still going on, occasionally being a beneficial check on the political power, in other cases much to the disadvantage of the ordinary citizen. 

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Military establishments evolved for the protection of communities and for organized warfare for conquest.  Territorial skirmishes are as old as most pre-human animals, especially predators.  But the organization of structured armies under the command of strategy- and tactics-controlling leaders is typical of human societies.

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What are the driving forces of warfare?  Initially in history, tribal territorial friction and territory expansion under the curse of population expansion may have been the driving force – and still is in many parts of the world.  Rulers of societies always searched for the expansion of their power base.  The securing of borders and creation of buffer areas may have been another reason, as in Chinese colonialism along the whole of its Western frontier and as by Israel on the West Bank.  There always were the fights between nomads and farmers, the value builders and the bandits.  Then there were the great historic migrations leading to conflict with local populations on the way.  They occurred all over the world, on the American continent, the same as in Europe, Asia, or Africa.  There also were the religious wars, driven by fanatical zealots – first the Muslims, then the Crusaders.  After all, there were also the wars fought for the possession or control of resources – minerals, water, access to harbors for access to resources and commerce.  There were wars initiated for defensive reasons – to preempt attacks by others, as demanded by Scipio against Carthage and as claimed against Iraq in our day,

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Organized warfare of large societies had a number of effects:

-        Changes in society’s structure

-        Acceleration of technological evolution

-        Spreading of cultures or absorption of foreign cultures

-        Cultural evolution in reaction to conflict 

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Ancient Rome and some American-Indian tribes used a different political structure during times of war, using specifically suitable personalities for leadership in war.  They subordinated other concerns of society to the needs of war – as if adrenalin had taken over the human brain.  Many, if not most, important wars were decided by differences in technology [8], some by superior leadership and strategy or tactics (Alexander the Great and Napoleon, for instance).  Technology, advanced for warfare, occasionally had important consequences for society, as the recent advance in electronics demonstrates.

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The building of empires always spread cultures in ancient times, the same as in more modern times.  But equally often, the occupied cultures changed the occupiers.[9]  Occasionally, cultures changed in reaction to warfare.  The Spartans adapted their entire culture to the purpose of military superiority and dominance over the occupied and suppressed Helots.  They would have had to be more farming-oriented without that.  The dominant British culture changed in reaction to empire-building and colonialism – as did the Japanese prior to World War II.  Such cultural change can be intense when the soldiers are a large group of conscripts, not just a small group of professionals.

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Society responds to the typical characteristic of warfare by creating dedicated functions, but also by producing dedicated groups of individuals, often drawn from the nobility in feudal societies or from family tradition.

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Welfare systems for the poor are as old in societies as formal ethical thought, going back to the dawn of human civilization among the Sumerians.[10]  Medical systems greatly expanded with the medical knowledge of the Greeks, leading to the establishments of elaborate clinics and spas (see the one established by Galen [129 to 199 AD], in the valley below Pergamon).  In Christian times, hospitals were established for sick pilgrims and times of plagues.  The French Revolution and subsequent civic reforms brought improved hospitals for the communities.  In our time, with the steeply rising cost of ever more advanced medical knowledge and costly equipment, medical insurance evolved as one of the key problems of society’s structure.

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“Literature” as a form of a society’s cultural expression may have begun with the Gilgamesh Epos[11] in Sumeria, supported by the invention of writing at that time in that area.  Verbal epic stories of cultural importance must have existed before and also were found in most other cultures, including the Polynesians.  As a written document of cultural definition, the Gilgamesh Epos was followed by the Old Testament, Homer’s epic works, the Vedas (about 1,000 BC), and others in other cultures – in more modern times, the works of Shakespeare, Goethe, and other national authors.

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The “media” play a special role in the life, formation of culture, and functioning of modern society – the bestsellers, newspapers, radio, TV, films, and now the internet.  Is that merely the role of a “communication” system?  Is it, rather, the physical role of a system of sensors and reporting “nerves” to amuse the communal brain?  Is it an intellectual control function with which to spot trouble?  Is it the attempt to form a second brain, competing with the political function of the government for control of society, as is being blamed on those who control some of the media?  Is it just a commercial function reacting to what sells at highest profit?  Or is it a strange combination of all the above – similar to what would be a neural system run wild in an individual, but only possible in the evolution of  societies? 

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Societies can pursue specific directions in their existence, for example, religious ideals (as in the medieval Vatican and in modern Iran), empire-building (as often in history and, lately, in the British Empire), commercial prosperity (as common among modern states), and just freedom for its citizens (as in the historical United States).  Subsequent to the Enlightenment and the intellectual approach to human matters, great slogans appeared for the preferable meaning and direction of societies:

-        “Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” (USA)

-        Liberté, égalité, fraternité” (France)

-        “Freedom, democracy and the order of law”

-        “Unity and law and freedom” (Germany)

-        “Law, order, and good governance” (Canada)

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Nations, as individuals, usually long for what they lack – the poor ones long for some sustenance, the troubled ones for peace, law, and order, and the suppressed ones for freedom.  The few lucky ones living in freedom and well-being still see the wide variance in the status of individuals within their own segment of society, the poor and suffering ones in their midst, and the frivolous consumption by some of their wealthy citizens.  This leads to balanced “directions” combining several complementary goals (for example, the American “compassionate conservatism” or the German “social market economy”).

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The basic principal of evolution valid in the universe at all times – based on a forward thrust in accordance with always varying starting and border conditions and in accordance with opportunities – may not allow the definition of a single, optimal direction of our or all other societies forever.

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As cultures appear and mature, so can societies evolve.  The last few hundred years have seen important changes – for example, the rise of democracy with the disappearance of slavery and the rise of feminism.  Both were not predictable in the preceding centuries. Will there be other changes of our societies in the future that we cannot predict now?

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Societies can project characteristics similar to personalities.  It is common to describe nations or organizations, whether industrial or charitable, with terms that are used for the description of individual personalities – ruthless, aggressive, fair, idealistic, and more.  What establishes these personalities of social entities?  Are they stable or variable?  In what way?  The description of the characteristics of a society on the level of a nation or ethnic group is largely the description of its culture – defined above by the common world view, values (including human rights in politics, civic obligations, and common heroes or role models), type of education, rituals, habits, artistic expression, language, religion, and common history.  Consequently, the behavior of a society reflects its culture – and is as stable or variable as that.  But many societies are temporarily defined by their lead individuals, establishing their direct responsibility. 

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As individuals demonstrate a variety of personality expressions under the impact of situations, societies can do the same – with different expressions in peaceful times of abundance, in stressed times of internal convulsions, or under attack.  An extreme form of dual expression is possible – almost schizophrenic – as in present-day Iraq – deeply religious and, at the same time, exceedingly cruel and untrustworthy.

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Commercial organizations are basically unethical, unless specific laws of society or internal rules are used to establish certain “ethical” behavior patterns.  There usually is a deep and complex split between the values and behavior in the private matters of individuals employed by such an organization and their behavior when representing the organization – when they feel that they have to act in the interest of the organization as they perceive it.  Therefore, ethical rules must be established, possibly by national or international law, and the individuals within the organizationsnot just their organizationsshould be held legally responsible and financially liable for their actions.

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There are some special developments of societies that should be mentioned, namely exotic sects and mass movements, – sometimes based on the strange neuro-psychological phenomenon of “obsession”, as in mass-hysteria.  Some of the human emotions discussed earlier can be inflamed by gifted leaders (or preachers) leading to group formation and total submission of individuals to the group spirit, for example, of religious, ideological, or nationalistic nature [12].  Human history is filled with reports of such small or large movements, some benevolent, others resulting in afflictions of mankind and wildly destructive.

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As in organisms, specialized functions in society imply specialized occupations for some individuals (as for the cells in organisms).  Specialization can occur by tradition, inclination, skill, or available means.  Such specialization-by-function results in specialized areas of intellectual competence and interest.  This is most visible in the specialization of academic branches of research and knowledge, as in, for example, anthropology, sociology, politics, economics, commerce, and warfare.  Associated are specialized think tanks, consultants, lobbyists, and public relations professionals.  The composition of government “cabinets” – the sum of secretaries or ministers – also corresponds to this differentiation.

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3.  Beyond Societies:  Virtual societies?  Super-societies?  A “Super-Brain”?

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Can there be another step in evolution beyond societies by following the “combinatorial principle”? 

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The internet can bring an evolution toward “virtual” societies and subcultures across actual or physical ones, as in another dimension of existence.

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Hierarchies of societies have evolved through the ages:  Tribes or their remnants, in the form of provinces, were incorporated in nations and nations in federations (in the USA, the same as in Europe today).  Lately, the United Nations are hoped to assume greater importance for the whole world, including military intervention.  Globalization is supposed to bring a super-society by way of commerce, requiring “global” rules of commercial behavior and control, for example, by way of the World Trade Organization.

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Societies are similar to organisms.  Organisms acquired brains that provided them with exceptional benefits.  Will there be an evolution arriving at something like a “super-brain” within and for the benefit of societies?  What would it have to look like, or how would it function?  A few interesting observations are possible. [13]

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In certain areas on Earth, one can observe the role of one or several (multi-level) minorities providing a degree of coordinating intelligence and control, being societies within themselves.  They are comparable to a system of nerves, featuring good communication, loyalties, and shared interests, apparently acting only in their own interest, but their presence and actions mostly resulting in benefit for their respective society.

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Examples could be: The feudal and in-bred elites of Europe’s past.  The Indians on South-Pacific islands or the Chinese in South-East Asia providing commerce and striving for education, beneficial governance, and civic law-and-order.  Even the much criticized Whites in the colonies, having been small minorities, did bring sophistication in infrastructure, governance, and law and order – now often lacking as they departed.  The Jews in Europe or America greatly contributed to the flourishing of “culture”, promoted and implemented social responsibility, and contributed a less self-centered, more world-oriented view of those nations – and also accelerated commerce and industry, thereby both their own and the general well-being. 

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Do all those minorities have, maintain, or evolve their own “culture”?

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[1] An excellent presentation of cosmic and planetary evolution – also covering the origin of life on Earth, going into detail and a depth considerably beyond this essay – is presented in Peter Ulmschneider’s book, “Intelligent Life in the Universe”, published by Springer in 2003/4, ISBN 3-540-43988-9, 250 pages.  Additionally, the swift progress of astrophysics and astronomy requires ongoing awareness of the newest leading publications in that field. 

[2]  As an example of the mechanism of evolution of societies, there is an interesting theory indicating that mountain tribes from the nearby Zagros Mountains had observed and learned to use the benefit of running water, conquered the Mesopotamian plains, and introduced irrigation, laying the foundation for the birth of the Sumerian civilization.  There is a similar theory explaining evolution of culture in the origin of the alphabet in the Middle East.  An earlier civilization with a language of mono-syllable words, as can be found in the Chinese language, had developed pictorial writing in Sumeria, similar to but preceding the Egyptian hieroglyphs.  When another tribe with a language of multi-syllable words, as the Japanese and all Europeans, conquered that area, the conquerors had to compose written words out of several of the available pictograms, each corresponding to the main consonant of a syllable.  This became the origin of the first alphabet – with the subsequent enormous influence of reporting, control, literature, philosophy, communication, and the media in societies.       

[3]  Aristotle already began to collect and compare the descriptions of different constitutions and their evolution in the course of time, mainly of the Greek city-states.  He took notes on about 158 in all!  Most of these notes are lost by now, with only the very interesting notes on the Athenian constitution and its change through time being preserved.

[4]  It is discussed here as a mental phenomenon, not in the sense of the earlier discussed biological or more primitive form of physical dominance as in the overshadowing or toxic repulsion among plants and dominance among animals.

[5]  Le Bon, 1841-1931, wrote La Psychologie des Foules (“The Psychology of the Masses”).

[6] This is really not different from the “virtual” value Cowry shells historically had for trade in the South Pacific and beyond.

[7] “Utility” is graphically described as the value of the outcome of a strategy relative to the financially probable outcome.  This graph falls off sharply for negative outcomes and reaches a positive plateau at the level of the planning individual’s “planning horizon”, corresponding to the capability to utilize incremental benefit.

[8] The Mongols prevailed by means of their swift horses, far-shooting bows, and advanced siege machinery.  In World War I, the tank contributed to the Allied victory.  In World War II, Germany desperately attempted to use rocket power and jet engines to recover superiority, while the atomic bomb ended the war in the Pacific.  Now, it is the electronic capability in guided missiles and communication that prevails.

[9] The areas conquered by Alexander became heavily influenced by Greek culture.  The Diadochian successor states acquired the culture of their lands.  The Mongol khans converted to Tibetan Buddhism.  The modern African nations still show the influence of their different, former European masters.

[10] The first written record of communal welfare is from Urukagina, King of Lagash, in Mesopotamia, also called Uru’inimgina, approximately 2,380 bc, establishing social order against abuse and corruption by the once powerful priests and presenting himself as the protector of the weak, the widows, and orphans.

[11] The earliest records of the Gilgamesh Epos date from shortly after 2,000 BC and refer to a king or Uruk who lived shortly after 3,000 BC.

[12]  See the excellent books by Eric Hoffer, for example, his The True Believer.

[13]  Some years ago, there appeared an odd scientific theory implying that nerves are the evolution of earlier flagellate cells that were symbiotically incorporated into organisms as mitochondria cells actually were, but with a merging of DNA, as it actually occasionally occurred between cells very early in evolution.  This theory would imply that these flagellates took over total control of the organisms for their own benefit – implying that the body and all its functions became low-level servants of the occupying nerves and the brain, but with the brain, for good reason, taking good care of its bodily servants.