In transition: looking back – looking ahead
Prof. Dr. Kurt Roth
Prof. Dr. Kurt Roth
Online Zoom

While we are mostly concerned with understanding and managing dynamic quasi-equilibrium states, both in science and society, our world and all its subsystems unfold through transitions into novel regimes. These may be minor (easy), like the mutation of some virus, SARS-CoV-2, say, which occurs within months, or they may be major (difficult) like the combination of two bacterial photosystems into a single and more powerful one, which was some 800 My in the making before it radically changed the path of system Earth for good, including that of its subsequently unfolding life.

The CCEES-group, between 2014 and 2021, has been exploring transitions, a path that indeed only becomes obvious in retrospect. We started timidly with transitions’ deep roots in chaos that led to the appreciation of deterministic time horizons, continued through complexity, recognizing the inevitability of self-organization, ventured into evolution, both biological and cultural, to uncover the hierarchy with its common underlying principles, and now boldly go for a universal evolution mechanics. Admittedly, we are far from a truly deep understanding, but I believe we have a framework.

In my talk, I will just touch on some aspects, stepping stones: (i) the major evolutionary transitions in individuality so far, together with some fundamentals on evolution, (ii) the emergence of oxygenic photosynthesis as the most dramatic transition so far, (iii) the evolutionary spiral, our proposed larger framework, and (iv) humankind’s cultural evolution as the high end, with a glimpse on COVID-19 as a (painful) spotlight on societal forms.