Marble Canyon, Grand Canyon, Arizona, March, 2009
My debating/collaborating/empathizing partner, Jake Leachman, is really knocking one out of the park today, so I thought I’d point folks toward his stuff. It’s NOT trivial, and it sure helps if you have a physics/thermodynamics background. But it’s a great first step toward stepping along a mathematically grounded, guiding principles path toward understanding human evolution.
What’s the backstory here to all this stuff? Here’s the short version. If you accept that this post is true — that at some level, the Master Equation of Culture + Structure = Behavior creates what one sees in the world today, then one of the big questions that comes up is “well, what makes structure and how does THAT work?” My materials science colleagues work on this all the time for everything from steel to ceramics. They make plots called phase diagrams that look like this.
Iron-carbon phase diagram, courtesy of Sebastian Brosen
What this particular plot tells you is what happens (behavior) to iron (structure) when you heat it and add some carbon (culture). Dependent on the various conditions, the metal changes phase and becomes the stuff we use for all sorts of things, including low-carbon steel, cast iron, and such.
What about human societies? We have some characterization of the different phases of humanity — that starting point is Spiral Dynamics. Empathy characterizes the bond strength/information transfer and coherence between individual actors in a society. So what happens when you cook a bunch of people with different cultural influences? How do we reach those breakpoints where we move up the Spiral and evolve? Can we make a phase diagram for humanity? The diagram above is only two dimensions (carbon % and temperature.) How many dimensions would you need to capture the actual behavior of a human community?
Asking these questions is important, as Jake points out. Currently, psychological research has a repeatability in their various experiments of about 50%. Understanding human behavior solely from the Legalistic v-Meme isn’t taking us where we need to go. When I look at the engineering education research, I also find it discouraging. No big questions get asked — and the small questions aren’t really worth answering. Clearly we need a paradigm shift in how we approach understanding ourselves.
What does The Matrix really look like? Jake takes a great first shot at laying down the thermodynamics of human change.