WHY IS HISTORY GETTING FASTER? MEASUREMENT AND EXPLANATION

SNOOKS G.D.

One of the most important discoveries of the life sciences in the past decade is not just that history is getting faster but that it can be measured and explained. We now know that all facets of life are generated by the same dynamic process and can be quantitatively measured and analysed as a whole. The history of life over the past 3,800 million years (myrs), which is the outcome of a series of systematically related biological and technological transformations, has described an arc that (on the arithmetical scale) is exponential in nature. This concave arc, which embraces the history of both nature and human society, demonstrates that each biological/technological transformation – or paradigm shift – requires only one-third of the time taken by its predecessor.

This discovery – now called the ‘Snooks-Panov algorithm’ – was first made by the author [Snooks 1996: 79-82, 92-95, 402-05] based on an extensive career observing the long-run dynamics of life both before and after the emergence of mankind about 2 myrs ago. This algorithm has since been confirmed by the physicist A.D. Panov [2004], using the historical observations of A.P. Nazaretyan and other Russian scholars. This joint work is now known as the “Snooks-Panov Vertical” [Nazaretyan 2005a].

More important than the measurement of the acceleration of history, however, is its explanation. By developing a general dynamic theory capable of explaining this core feature of life on Earth, it is possible to understand where we might be going in the future and how we might arrive there. It is essential to realise that the Snooks-Panov curve is merely a ‘timescape’ – a pattern of the past – which cannot be extrapolated into the unknown without the very real risk of making erroneous and, hence, misleading predictions. If we wish to understand how the future might unfold, we need to develop a general dynamic theory that can be employed to make more accurate and useful predictions. To do otherwise is to fall foul of the ‘fallacy of historicism’.

This is where the dynamic-strategy theory – developed in a long series of books by the author [Snooks 1993-2005] – comes into the picture. This completely new theory not only explains the dynamic processes of the past and present but also makes sensible and non-trivial predictions about the future. In terms of the focus of this paper, the dynamic-strategy theory is able to resolve concerns about the future generated in some quarters by the supposed implications of the Snooks-Panov Vertical. What are these concerns? First, that human society, and perhaps the Universe, may collapse under the demands of this dynamic arc (Nazaretyan); and second, that human society will need to find a new dynamic path (Panov). A more optimistic conclusion about the future is reached in this paper.

Measuring the acceleration of history:

the snooks algorithm

Origins

The discovery that history has been speeding up in a systematic manner over the past 3,800 myrs was the outcome of a long career in which I have observed and quantified the ‘timescapes’ of the past. This in turn led me to measure the rate of biological and technological change, resulting in the so-called Snooks algorithm.

How did this come about? Initially I was trained both as an orthodox and historical economist. But owing to the unrealistic nature of orthodox deductive economics I soon abandoned it for historical inductive economics [Snooks 1993]. My objective has always been to detect and measure patterns in history – usually in centrally important variables such as population, workforce, capital formation, output, prices, income, and territorial acquisition – and to explain them by inductively developing appropriate dynamic theories.

In earlier work, I focused on manageable issues at the macro/micro and regional/national levels during more recent centuries1. The aim was to investigate both the driving force and the dynamic mechanisms operating in human society at various levels. This was in preparation for the more ambitious attempt to measure and explain global history over vast periods of time. Why? Because the entire history of thought from the time of the ancient Greeks to today is unable to boast even one general dynamic theory that can successfully explain and predict the fluctuating fortunes of human history.

What began in the late 1980s as a study of the dynamics of human society since the emergence of civilization about 6,000 years ago became, in my book The Dynamic Society [1996], an analysis of the dynamics of life beginning 3,800 myrs ago. In order to explain the fluctuating fortunes of human civilization, I found it necessary to examine also the emergence of mankind, even the emergence and transformation of life as a whole. Through this work it became clear to me that the role of the historical economist is very similar to that of the historical (or evolutionary) biologist. I discovered that the quantitative historicist could feel as comfortable examining data from the quarries as that from the statistical archives.

From the study of what I call ‘deep history’ [Snooks, 2005c], it became clear that there existed an essential dynamic continuity in life on Earth both before and after the emergence of mankind. Both nature and human society have been travelling on the same dynamic pathway. This is why the process of biological/technological transition at the global level could be expressed through a single algorithm.

Essence

The Snooks algorithm was expressed (Snooks 1996: 80) as: Y = a (3t-1), where y is the biomass generated by both biological and technological change over the past 3,800 myrs, and t is time. What this algorithm tells us is that biomass generated by nature and society is accelerating at a constant rate (Figure 1b). What can be called the ‘coefficient of acceleration’ of life is about 3.0, which means that each ‘great wave’ of biological/technological progress – and its underlying paradigm shift – occurs in one-third of the time taken by its predecessor (Figures 2 to 4).

As can be seen in Figure 1, the transformation of life traces out an exponential curve, which when plotted on an arithmetic scale becomes increasingly vertical as we approach the present (Figure 1a), but when plotted on a logarithmic scale approximates a straight 45-degree line (Figure 1b). In other words, the Snooks algorithm is log-linear. What this means is that while the dynamic process of life increasingly generates a larger quantity of biomass (or real GDP in human society) per unit of time, in the very long run it grows at a constant compound rate that can be measured by the (constant) slope of the logarithmic curve (but not of the arithmetic curve). Hence history is getting faster in the sense that more is happening in each given unit of time, but it is happening at the same long-run compound rate. The distinction here is the same as that between simple and compound interest rate calculations, or between arithmetic and geometric rates of change.

Hence, while the amount of the increase in biomass approaches (but, as it is asymptotic, never attains) the infinite – or, alternatively, while the period in which this takes place approaches the infinitely small – the compound rate at which it occurs is constant and does not approach the infinite. Instead of the ‘Snooks-Panov Vertical’, it might be more accurate to call it the ‘Snooks-Panov Constant’.

In The Dynamic Society [1996: 79] this was expressed in terms of the reducing length and increasing amplitude of the ‘great waves of life’ (Figure 2) and of the ‘great steps of life’ (Figures 3 and 4). As I wrote there:

The first great wave was about 1.6 billion years in duration, the second about 600 million years, the third about 185 million years, and the fourth, which is by no means complete, about 60 million years... The declining duration of each wave presented in Figure [2] is a mathematical constant – each wave is about one-third as long as the one that preceded it. Also, the amplitude of the waves is increasing. There can be little doubt, therefore, that the momentum of life on Earth is accelerating. As can be seen from Figure [1], this increasing momentum of life is described by an exponential curve on an arithmetical scale and a straight line (log-linear) on a logarithmic scale… What are the implications of this fascinating discovery? It appears to constitute an important law of life: that any dynamic life system (including human society) involving an accumulating stock of ‘ideas’ (either genetic or technological), where the output of ‘ideas’ in one phase (or wave) becomes the input of the next phase in which they are further transformed, will grow exponentially.

Initially I called this phenomenon the ‘law of cumulative genetic change’ [Snooks 1996]. Later, when focusing on the history of our own species in The Laws of History [Snooks 1998a], I referred to its more recent action as the ‘law of cumulative technological change’, and more recently, when analysing the wider history of life again in The Collapse of Darwinism [Snooks 2003], it became the ‘law of cumulative biological/technological change’. The important point to note is that this law is common to both nature and human society, because of the dynamic continuity between them.

Interpretation

Some scholars convinced of the importance of the Snooks-Panov Vertical, are concerned about the implications of this biological/technological development path as it approaches the vertical part of the curve in Figure 1a. Akop Nazaretyan, who coined the term ‘Snooks-Panov Vertical’, suspects that the implied rate of acceleration ‘would start the process of rapid annihilation of universal space and time, the end of which would be a new singularity, a geometrical point with no dimensions, under total control of omnipotent super-human intelligence’2. It is an outcome I find difficult to envisage.

Nazaretyan appears to focus on the arithmetical curve in Figure 1a rather than the logarithmic curve in Figure 1b. While it is true that history is speeding up in the sense that more is happening per unit of time, the long-run compound rate of growth is not approaching infinity because it is constant. Similarly, the future compound rate of transformation will approximate that of the past. Why? Because growth rates in all eras are generated by the same dynamic process, which is discussed in the final section of this paper. And it is the compound rate of transformation rather than the amount of biomass per unit of time that determines our ability to sustain this transformation of life on Earth into the distant future. Hence, the predicted pace of development in the future will not place a relatively greater impost on society and its environment than it has in the past. Human society, therefore, will be able to respond institutionally and culturally in the future just as effectively as it has always done. There will be no collapse of human civilization at the global level for this reason. But collapse could occur, as I have outlined elsewhere, from other extreme and unlikely causes [Snooks, 1996: ch. 13; Snooks, 2000].

Alexander Panov also appears to interpret the Snooks-Panov vertical with a degree of pessimism, but for different reasons. In interpreting this algorithm, Panov (2004) writes:

[W]e live near the final point of the cycle of the scale invariant evolution with duration of four billion years. The phenomenon of the acceleration of evolution time must stop in the nearest future (2004 +/- 15 years) and the evolution on Earth must proceed in a completely new way.

This suggests that Panov believes the Snooks-Panov algorithm is a dynamic mechanism – rather than the outcome of a more complex underlying dynamic mechanism – that can and will grind to a halt in the next few years.

To understand what has happened in the past, and to predict what will happen in the future, we need to understand the underlying mechanism by constructing a general dynamic theory based on a close observation of the dynamic patterns of the past. To merely extrapolate the Snooks-Panov curve into the unknown – either the future or, as Panov has also done, the past before the emergence of life on Earth – is to expose oneself to what Karl Popper in The Povery of Historicism [1957] calls the ‘fallacy of historicism’. It is important to realise that the Snooks-Panov curve is relevant only to the era of biological/technological transformation. It cannot describe pre-biological chemical evolution, as that is the outcome of an entirely different dynamic process [Snooks, 2005d]. Some attempts to employ thermodynamic models – which are really comparative static in nature – to explain both inorganic and organic ‘evolution’ as a single process, are so general they cannot be tested at the detailed level. They are, in other words, metaphysical.

Panov’s conclusion that the Snooks-Panov algorithm will end in the next few years is merely an artefact of the way he has set up his basic equation rather than an outcome of detailed historical observation. A closer reading of the dynamic mechanism underlying this algorithm suggests that the current technological paradigm will not come to an end until the majority of Third World countries have successfully negotiated the current global strategic transition [Snooks, 1999]. Only then will the ‘industrial technological paradigm’ have exhausted itself, thereby providing the pressure and incentive to generate the next paradigm shift or technological revolution – a future phenomenon I have called the ‘Solar Revolution’ [Snooks, 1996: ch. 13]. And this will take at least another two or three generations to unfold. Not just a few years. There will, therefore, be no potential crisis until then. And in all probability human society will successfully negotiate the transition to a new technological paradigm as it has always done. The Snooks-Panov curve will continue indefinitely into the distant future, because the underlying dynamic process (described by the ‘dynamic-strategy theory’) will proceed unabated.

How then should the Snooks-Panov algorithm be interpreted? The dynamic-strategy theory suggests that the ‘great steps of life’ (Figures 3 and 4) will continue to change exponentially in two dimensions – increasing in height and decreasing in length – until, sometime in the distant future, technological revolution becomes continuous. This merely means that the great steps will progressively become shorter until they disappear – until the ‘great steps of life’ become the ‘great escalator of technology’. Human society will have no more difficulty adapting to this – through its usual response to ‘strategic demand’ – than it has to the discrete technological revolutions of the past. Also my theory suggests that because of future systems of instant electronic communication and commerce, all countries will respond simultaneously to the strategic demand generated by pioneering groups in the global strategic core. In the future there will be no First/Third World distinction. It was the lagged response of individual countries (and species) in the past that led to a lengthy process of catch-up between technological (and biological) revolutions (see Figures 3 and 4).

Explaining the acceleration of history –

the dynamic-strategy theory

In the first instance, the acceleration of history can be ‘explained’ in terms of the cumulative nature of biological and technological change. Exponential growth occurs when the output of one phase of the dynamic process becomes the input of the next. The example, with which we are all familiar, is the development of electronic computers, the power of which is said to double every eighteen months. Each major electronic advance is the basis on which further advances are made. The process is cumulative or geometric. This, of course, merely begs the question: What dynamic mechanism underlies the cumulative nature of biological and technological change? This is one of the most important and difficult questions that can be asked in the life sciences.

After a lifetime of struggling with this question, I am convinced that the answer is to be found in the ‘dynamic-strategy theory’. It is a theory relevant to the development of life and human society over the past 3,800 myrs, and to the distant future. What it is not relevant to – like the Snooks-Panov algorithm – is the development of inorganic structures prior to the emergence of life on Earth. That requires an entirely different theory.

The dynamic-strategy theory briefly outlined

The dynamic-strategy theory is capable of explaining how and why history is getting faster. It can also explain why a society/species/dynasty emerges, flourishes, stagnates, and, sometimes, collapses; and how this leads to biological/technological paradigm shifts. It is a theory concerned with the way organisms – including man – attempt to achieve their objectives in a variety of physical and social environments, why and how these ways are eventually exhausted, why a previously successful society/species/dynasty falters and is extinguished; and how this leads to the eventual exhaustion of the prevailing biological/technological paradigm and its replacement with a new paradigm. It is a theory of life that possesses universal validity.

Essentially the dynamic-strategy theory consists of a self-starting and self-sustaining interaction between the organism and its society. This dynamic process takes place within the context of a largely stable physical environment, which occasionally changes in random and unsystematic ways. It is, in other words, an endogenous dynamic theory. All other theories, which usually explain life forms as driven by asteroid impacts, massive volcanic eruptions, or major climatic changes, are exogenous in nature. In its most general form the dynamic-strategy theory consists of four interrelated internal elements and one external and random force. These elements and forces include the following.

1. The internal driving force, which arises from the need of all organisms to survive and prosper, provides the theory with its self-starting and self-sustaining nature. This is the concept of the ‘materialist organism’, which is driven by the basic need to fuel its metabolic process. The only alternative is starvation and death.

2. The fourfold ‘dynamic strategies’ – including genetic/technological change, family multiplication, commerce (or symbiosis), and conquest – are employed by individual organisms, or ‘strategists’, through the process of ‘strategic selection’ to achieve their material objectives. Strategic selection displaces natural selection.

3. The ‘strategic struggle’ is the main ‘political’ instrument by which established individuals/species (‘old strategists’) attempt to maintain their control over the sources of their prosperity, and by which emerging individuals/species (‘new strategists’) attempt to usurp such control;

4. The constraining force operating on the dynamics of a society/species/dynasty is the eventual exhaustion not of natural resources but of the dominant dynamic strategy – or, at a higher level in the dynamic process, the genetic/technological paradigm (see Figures 3 and 4) – which leads to the emergence of internal and external conflict, environmental crisis, and collapse;

5. Exogenous shocks, both physical (continental drift, volcanic action, asteroid impact, climate change) and biological (disease and invasion), impact randomly and distortingly on this endogenously driven and shaped dynamic system.

The dynamic-strategy theory, therefore, treats life as a ‘strategic pursuit’ in which organisms adopt one of four dynamic strategies in order to achieve the universal objective of survival and prosperity. This choice is based on a trial-and-error process of what works best. These same four dynamic strategies have been identified in life as well as human society [Snooks, 2003: ch. 9]. The all-important driving force in this dynamic system, which provides the self-starting and self-sustaining dynamics, is the ‘materialist organism’ (or ‘materialist man’), striving at all times, irrespective of the degree of competition, to increase its access to natural resources in order to ensure sufficient fuel to maintain its metabolic processes. It is the most basic force in life – a force I call ‘strategic desire’ – which can be detected in man as well as all other life forms [Snooks, 2003: chs 9 and 11]. More intense competition merely raises the stakes of the strategic pursuit and leads to conquest rather than genetic change.

As organisms and their ‘societies’ exploit their strategic opportunities, the dynamic strategy unfolds, generating a ‘strategic demand’ for a wide variety of inputs essential for this life-giving process. These inputs, which include resources, labour, capital formation, institutions (rules), and ideas (both genetic and technological), are supplied within ‘social’ groups. The interaction between the organism and its ‘society’ is the dynamic mechanism that leads to fluctuating increases in biomass and GDP at the local and national levels.

The development path taken by a society/species/dynasty – consisting of a series of ‘great waves’ – is determined by the unfolding dynamic strategy (which generates ‘strategic demand’), and the sequence of dynamic strategies adopted by the organism. There is nothing teleological about this unfolding process, which is an outcome of organisms exploring their strategic opportunities on a daily basis in order to gain better access to natural resources. There is no preordained outcome. Successful individual strategies for survival and prosperity become the dynamic strategies of entire societies/species/dynasties through the process of what I have called ‘strategic imitation’, whereby the conspicuously successful ‘strategic pioneers’ are imitated by the vast mass of ‘strategic followers’. ‘Choice’ is not a cost-benefit calculation. In this way, individual ‘choice’ and action are incorporated into my macro-biological/macro-economic theory. The development path of life, therefore, is an outcome of individual/group exploitation and eventual exhaustion of a dynamic strategy or sequence of strategies. Once replacement strategies are no longer available, the society/species/dynasty collapses. Hence, the rise and fall of groups of organisms at all levels of existence, which generates the ‘great waves’ pattern, are the outcome of the strategic pursuit of the individuals they contain. The dynamic-strategy theory, which is a demand-side theory, can explain both the micro and macro aspects of both human society and life. This is something that the usual supply-side theories – the entropy, chaos, complexity, and other self-organization theories – are totally unable to do [Snooks 2005a].

The dynamic strategies are central to this theory. Under the ‘dynamic strategy of genetic change’, the physical and instinctual characteristics of organisms are changed in order to use existing natural resources more intensively or to gain access to previously unattainable resources. The outcome of pursuing the genetic strategy is the emergence of new species, or what I call new ‘genetic styles’ (to be compared with ‘technological styles’ in human society). On the other hand, the ‘family-multiplication strategy’, which consists of procreation and migration, generates a demand for physical and instinctual characteristics that increase fertility and mobility in order to bring more natural resources into family hands; the ‘commerce (or symbiotic) strategy’ demands characteristics that provide a monopoly over certain resources and/or services that can be exchanged for mutual benefit; and the ‘conquest strategy’ demands weapons of offence and defence to forcibly extract resources from and defend resources against one’s neighbours. The mechanism by which these physical and instinctual changes in organisms are achieved brings us to the centrally important, and radically new, concept of ‘strategic selection’.

Strategic selection distinguishes the dynamic-strategy theory from all other theories of life. It displaces the ‘divine selection’ of the creationists and the ‘natural selection’ of the Darwinists. Strategic selection empowers the organism and removes it from the clutches of gods, genes, entropy, and blind chance. It formally recognises the dignity and power that all organisms clearly possess and, in particular, reinstates the humanism of mankind that the neo-Darwinists and other physical theorists of life have done their best to demolish.

While I will attempt a brief outline of strategic selection here, a full and unambiguous explanation will require a close reading of The Collapse of Darwinism [Snooks, 2003: especially chs 10 and 12]. Organisms respond to the dynamic ‘strategic demand’ for a variety of inputs required in the strategic pursuit – inputs such as skills, infrastructure, institutions (rules), organizations, and biological/technological characteristics. Strategic demand constantly changes owing to the unfolding of the dominant dynamic strategy. (It is this characteristic that makes the dynamic-strategy theory unique in the life sciences – it is responsible for creating a demand-side theory.) Those organisms possessing the physical and instinctual characteristics required by the prevailing dynamic strategy will be, on average, conspicuously more successful in gaining access to natural resources than those who do not possess them. This success will attract the attention of other organisms with similar characteristics. Through cooperative activity these similarly gifted organisms will maximize their individual as well as group success. If of different gender they will mate together and pass on their successful characteristics to at least some of their offspring. They may even cull – or allow their stronger offspring to cull – those offspring that do not share these successful characteristics. This is undertaken by individuals in animal and human society alike to increase the probability of their survival and prosperity.

The point of strategic selection is that individual organisms – rather than gods, genes, or fate – are responsible for selecting comrades, mates, and siblings that possess the necessary characteristics to jointly pursue the prevailing dynamic strategy successfully. It is important to realize that strategic selection operates under varying degrees of competition, not just intense Darwinian competition (which in reality has always led to conquest and extinction rather than genetic change and speciation), and that it responds to each of the four dynamic strategies, not just the genetic strategy. Also, it is all about the welfare of the self and not that of future generations or of the so-called ‘selfish gene’ as the neo-Darwinists claim.

If the prevailing dynamic strategy happens to be genetic change, organisms will seek out associates that possess the characteristics required to reinforce their own, in order to gain greater access to existing natural resources. If and when they mate, these advantages will be passed on to some of their offspring. The others, as we have seen, are usually culled by parents or more fortunate siblings. In this way, new species will gradually emerge. There is no role here for either a divine selector or a mechanical natural selector. Selection is undertaken by the organisms themselves in the course of their strategic pursuit. It is revealing that this type of genetic change, which is associated with speciation, only occurs in reality when competition is minimal and resources are abundant: a situation in which Darwin regarded natural selection as totally inoperative. The reason is that the genetic strategy takes time and the guarantee of long-run monopoly ‘profits’ to be successful. Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’, therefore, is a total fiction.

Under the genetic strategy, organisms will only seek out associates who possess the correct characteristics. Hence, those other characteristics that would assist nongenetic strategies are, at this time, rightly rejected. Mutations that do not contribute to the success of the prevailing dynamic strategy are completely ignored. Individuals possessing them are regarded as ‘freaks’ or ‘mutants’, are boycotted, isolated, and often destroyed.

Once the genetic strategy has been exhausted and new species have emerged, organisms will pursue either the family-multiplication or commerce (symbiotic) strategies. As these nongenetic strategies require only slight modifications to the physical structure of organisms, the genetic profile of the species involved will, after the initial phase of relatively rapid change (over, say, hundreds of thousands of years), approximate the horizontal (for millions of years), before being extinguished. This explains the so-called ‘punctuated equilibria’ that palaeontologists [Eldredge and Gould, 1972] have detected in the fossil record – the pattern is right but their ‘theory’ is wrong, because they have persisted with Darwinism.

With the exhaustion of these nongenetic, and relatively peaceful, strategies, competition becomes extremely intense and resources very scarce. This is the Darwinian scenario at last. But instead of pursuing the genetic strategy that results in speciation (resource-accessing ‘technology’), this mature species turns to the conquest strategy, which requires only add-on ‘technology’, such as body armour, club tails, and slashing teeth and claws, which is essential in warfare. These biological add-ons require much less time and resources than the complete biological transformation involved in speciation. In such circumstances, organisms select their associates and mates on the basis of war skills, and reject those that could, in the much longer run, lead to the development of new species. The outcome of Darwinian intense competition, therefore, is not speciation as the theory of natural selection claims, but ‘conquest’ (to capture diminishing natural resources) and, eventually, extinction. Hence, organisms are not only largely responsible for their own fate, but collectively they determine, through the process of ‘strategic imitation’, the great historical patterns and mechanisms of life.

And what of exogenous events? Life and history, as demonstrated in my ‘Strategic Pursuit of Life’ series of books [Snooks, 1993-2005], are certainly not systematically driven and shaped by the catastrophes, climate changes, or other natural forces favoured by most natural scientists, and by their followers in the social sciences. If they were, there would be no laws of life or history, no great timescapes, and no Snooks-Panov algorithm; only the random outcomes of a great cosmic lottery. External forces only play a role when a species/dynasty has exhausted its strategic sequence and faces inevitable collapse. Even laws of physics, such as entropy, are unable to account for the fluctuating fortunes of life and human society. Exogenous forces merely provide the physical context within which the game of life is played. The rise and fall of societies, species, and dynasties are the outcome of individuals engaged in the strategic pursuit. It has been the task or the dynamic-strategy theory to show how.

Applying the dynamic-strategy theory

to the transformation of life from its beginnings

The dynamic-strategy theory was employed in The Collapse of Darwinism [Snooks, 2003] to analyse the dynamic mechanisms that underlie the historical patterns of life, and to uncover the laws of life. This was achieved by identifying these timescapes and interpreting them through the above general dynamic theory. Not only does this enable us to analyse the past but also to make sensible predictions about the future. These theoretically based backward and forward predictions avoid the well-known problems encountered by older forms of historicism by being based not on the historical patterns themselves but on the mechanisms underlying these patterns.

In The Collapse of Darwinism [Snooks, 2003: ch. 9], I review the detailed fossil evidence to identify the major timescapes of life. This enables us to reconstruct the ‘great waves of life’ – see Figure 2 – during which the quantity of life (or biomass) on Earth surged ahead with ever-increasing energy, followed by substantial crashes. The first great wave, which was generated by the expansion of prokaryote life (blue-green algae), was about 2,000 myrs in duration; the second, driven by eukaryote life (plants and animals), was about 600 myrs long; and the third and fourth, generated by endothermic (warm-blooded) life, were about 180 myrs (dinosaurs) and 60 myrs (mammals) in duration respectively. Shorter fluctuations, ending with widespread extinctions around 435 myrs BP, 370 myrs BP, and 215 myrs BP, constitute a system of waves within waves. The reasons for identifying the great-waves timescape in Figure 2 are twofold: first, to provide a convenient visual structure for organizing a new detailed story of life; and second, to identify the macrobiological pattern that must be explained by any dynamic theory of life. While there is no space to focus here on the first of these, the second can be briefly discussed.

The central dynamic mechanisms underlying the great waves of life are the ‘great genetic/technological paradigm shifts’, which are presented in Figures 3 and 4. They give the appearance of a flight of stairs, which I call the ‘great steps of life’. These great steps have changed exponentially in two dimensions: increasing in height and decreasing in depth. This reflects the accelerating impact of genetic change on life between 3,800 myrs BP and 2 myrs BP, and, largely, of technological change thereafter.

According to the great-steps diagrams in Figures 3 and 4, there have been six biological/technological paradigm shifts, or revolutions, over the past 3,800 myrs: the first three being genetic and the second three technological. The basis for identifying these revolutions is the impact they have on changing the access that organisms have to global resources. Without a relatively large and sudden increase in global resource access, there can be no revolution or paradigm shift. There seems to be considerable confusion in the literature on this issue, as fundamental genetic/economic revolutions are mixed up with mere institutional responses. In essence, the history of life on Earth is a story about the exponential increase in the access of organisms to natural resources.

The first genetic paradigm shift was an outcome of the ‘Prokaryotic Revolution’ driven by blue-green algae from about 3,500 myrs ago; the second arose from the ‘Eukaryotic Revolution’ driven by primitive plants and animals (including reptiles) from about 800 myrs ago; and the third had its origin in the ‘Endothermic Revolution’ begun by the protomammals about 245 myrs BP. While the next revolution – the ‘Intelligence Revolution’ – was genetic in nature, it led not to a genetic paradigm shift, but to a series of technological paradigm shifts. These included the Palaeolithic paradigm shift (the hunting revolution) beginning about 2 myrs ago; the Neolithic paradigm shift (the agricultural revolution) beginning about 10,600 years BP; and the modern technological paradigm shift (the Industrial Revolution) beginning in the late eighteenth century and continuing until today. All other major institutional (such as emergence of government) or cultural (such as emergence of writing or the internet) changes are subordinate to these biological/economic paradigm shifts – they are merely responses to the strategic demand generated by the new dynamic strategies unleashed by these key revolutions. They have no independent motive force, as many scholars seem to believe.

Each great revolution followed the exhaustion of the earlier genetic or technological paradigm, and each made possible a more intensive access to natural resources. The outcome of this improved access was a higher level of biological or economic activity, measured in terms of biomass and real per capita income respectively. It was, in other words, the sequence of genetic and technological paradigm shifts that generated the increasingly energetic surging of the great waves of both life and human society seen in Figure 2. And further, this paradigmatic sequence led over billions of years to greater complexity of biological and societal organization.

What was different and momentous about the ‘Intelligence Revolution’ was that it enabled the substitution of what I call the ‘technology option’ for the long-exhausted ‘genetic option’ (see Figure 3). It was only because of this ‘strategic substitution’ that the Intelligence Revolution – a major increase in brain size/complexity – spawned technological rather than further genetic paradigm shifts. While the enabling condition for this strategic substitution was the achievement of a threshold level of brain size – in the range 700 to 1000 cubic centimetres – the driving force was provided by the strategic desire of one previously insignificant branch of the mammal dynasty – the hominids – to acquire more precise and precipitate control over the means of intensifying their access to natural resources. Initially (before 3 myrs BP) this was achieved through genetic change in brain size/complexity, then (3 to 0.15 myrs) by a combination of genetic and technological change, and finally (since 150,000 years) by technological change alone.

The ‘technology option’ liberated life from sole dependence on the very slow- acting dynamic strategy of genetic change. Of particular interest is the transition period between 3 and 0.15 myrs BP, when both the genetic and technology strategies were employed in an interactive fashion by early man. To increase their mobility – and hence the probability of their survival and prosperity – the apemen developed a more generalized type of family-multiplication strategy by changing their diet from nuts and tubers to meat and marrow. The reason is that while nuts and tubers have a limited geographical distribution, meat and marrow can be found everywhere. But to become meat-eaters, these relatively defenceless primates had to invent effective hunting tools and weapons. Although the time-honoured way was to develop biological appendages through genetic change, the apemen had, owing to their relatively large brains, a potential comparative advantage in producing detached wood/bone/stone tools and weapons, if only they could further increase their intellectual capabilities.

For the next 2 myrs or so an increase in brain size/complexity through ‘strategic selection’ in response to ‘strategic demand’, enabled the hominids to improve their tools, weapons, and institutions. In turn this improved the effectiveness of the family-multiplication strategy, which further increased the strategic demand for greater intelligence to improve tools, weapons, and institutions. And so on. In this way, genetic and technological change interacted in a joint response to strategic demand, and apeman transformed himself into modern man as he changed from scavenger to highly skilled hunter, who migrated to all parts of the globe, wiping out the megafauna as he went. Over the past 150,000 years since the emergence of modern man, our species has pursued the technology option exclusively, because at the beginning of this new age our brains were at last sufficiently large and complex to negotiate the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions with ease. Owing to the final liberation made possible by the ‘technology option’, the growth of brain size came to an end, because technological change was more rapid, precise, and economical than genetic change. Accordingly, the pace of life accelerated and, owing to the law of cumulative technological change (underlying the Snooks-Panov algorithm), will continue to do so into the future. A future that will witness a new interaction between technological and genetic change, but this time under the auspices of the ‘technology option’ (see Snooks 2003: ch. 16). Ultimately, as the ‘law of cumulative biological/technological change’ implies, the technological paradigm shift will become continuous and instantaneous rather than discrete and time-lapsed. Then mankind will face continuous economic revolution, to which we will adapt through strategic demand as we have always done.

Conclusions

History is getting faster in the sense that a greater number of biological/technological transformations have been occurring during a given time interval as the past 3,800 myrs have unfolded. What this means is that in a few centuries time, the quantity of biomass/GDP will approach the infinite or, to put it another way, the duration between technological paradigm shifts will become infinitely small. Ultimately, the great steps of life will be transformed into the great escalator of technological change. Technological revolution will become continuous.

What it does not mean is that the compound (or geometric) rate of transformation will approach infinity, as some have suggested. It has been shown that this rate of growth is constant over the very long run. While it is true that the Snooks-Panov curve is exponential on an arithmetic scale, it is linear on a logarithmic scale. What this means is that the relative impact of the acceleration of history on social and cultural institutions will not be any greater in the future than it has been in the past. We will respond to the challenge of the strategic pursuit in the future as effectively as we have responded for the past 3,800 myrs. And we will respond to this challenge more effectively if we understand the underlying dynamic mechanism. This is the contribution that can be made by the dynamic-strategy theory, which for the first time enables us to understand the journey of life and human society from their beginnings into the distant future.

Notes

1. See Snooks [1974; 1986; 1993; 1994].

2. Private correspondence with A.P. Nazaretyan by email, 25th October 2004.

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