Re: may we narrow the evolution debate for a moment to clarif

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Thu, 12 May 1994 17:20:10 +1000

I'm not sure if this is the first time I've replied to one of Daniel
Foss' posts, but I'm having qualms about juxtaposing my prosaic prose
with his elegantly constructed production - I fear my Rhetorical
deficiencies may become all to apparent.

> marks original Dan Foss

. marks deletions

[ ] is my summary

Dan Foss (no word is adequate)s:
> I am inter-
> ested in one particular change, which is one of several which spread rapidly
> over the Eurasian landmass. The change in question is not of productive or
> military technique. It is - surprise! - in the broadening and deepening of
> relgio-philosophical systems in each of the major civilization-areas of that
> Eurasian landmass.

[ interesting history of the wheelbarrow ]

> The spread, however selective, of innovation over vast distances quickly
> attracted the attention of World System theorists, who have continued, in
> recent years, to push the inception of the world system of Eurasia back in
> time. One scholar, Andre Gunder Frank, insists on 3100 BC, the very beginning
> of the Early Bronze Age, as the birth date of the world system. He has even
> charted 60-year Long Waves for the whole Bronze Age. Frankly, I find this hard
> to believe.

Reference: article in Current Anthropology Vol 34, No 4.

I was a bit bemused by that too. It tries to fit worldwide A and
B cycles to really amazingly sketchy historical data by ignoring
or explaining away conflicting evidence and puffing up favourable
evidence. I wonder if Frank even knows what statistically significant
means. If we come up with some (undoubtedly flawed but) reasonably
objective and reasnably extensive quantitative "measurements" of
economic well-being/international trade, then it might be worthwhile
performing time series analysis on the data. Until then it's just
building sandcastles.

But now you seem to want to an equally incredible connection.

> One such critical diffusion or simultaneity just happened, all over the
> place, about 500 BC. Let's see what was happening in various and assorted
> places just before and after this date, concentrating on relgio-ideolgical
> and philosophical innovation.

> mainland Greece

[ Kleisthenes, Athenian democracy ]

> Near East:
> The codification of Jewish
> religious law, redaction of many scriptures, and dogmatic monotheism

[ digression on urban/rural tension in early Judaism ]

> Persia: Career of Zarathustra, dates uncertain.

> India: Career of Siddhartha Gautama, The Buddha. Foundation of Buddhism
> as a great world-religion.
> Upanishads.
> Jainism and other dissident religio-philosophical schools.
> China: Career of Confucius. Hundred Schools of Thought develop in the
> ensuing Warring States period.

Has anyone here read Gore Vidal's _Creation_? If so, what did they think
of it? (I was looking at it in the bookshop the other day; it's the
story of a Persian noble who meets Buddha, Socrates and Confucius, among
other people.)

> Sociologists do not really believe in coincidence. Causal connection,
> howbeit complex multicausal connection, is the sociociological mind's
> system default. What common causal variable might have been fostering
> these developments in widely scattered places simultaneously?
> warmer-than-usual climate prevailed worldwide
> A fairly sudden warmup means that the cultivators expend less
> energy to grow more crop, consequently possessing more leisure time, than
> hitherto; affording increased revenues to parasitic ruling classes, cities,
> and states than before, at the same percentage-of-the-crop assessment schedule.
> Momentarily, at least, the division of labor and accretion of wealth within
> the "macroparasitic" (O'Neill, 1976) sector proceeds apace without this having
> to be at the cultivators' direct expense.

I don't believe in "coincidence" either - at least not the sort that
makes for stories in the tabloid press. I do, however find your
conjunction of "complex multicausal connection" and "common causal
variable" inconsistent (you could at least have made it "variables" :-).
I suspect that if you picked any other century you could find similar
parallels, and I remain entirely unconvinced that the one you present
is really significant. Is Kleisthenes so much more important than
Thales or Plato?

> Let's suppose there's some direct or indirect connection somewhere.

Let's not fall into the trap of assuming that there's a connection
anywhere we can find any kind of parallel, especially when dealing with
human phenomena where our pattern recognition machinery is so biased.

Danny Yee.