Social systems evolution: Paradigm change II

The purpose of the talks about “Utopia(s) reloaded: Science, activism and the techno-eco-social transformation” we are preparing for 26-28 October 2023 is to raise awareness of the scientific basis on which action can be effective in overcoming the current polycrisis. These talks are intended to explore the paradigm changes needed to transform our societies.

As recently as 2017, in a paper Hofkirchner et al. had criticised the use of arguments from biology to deny the possibility of a positive evolution of humanity towards ever larger units: “Despite some literature based on biologistic biases unable to imagine a transgression of the conceptual framework of the nation-state ‘we’, transnational relations have been taking shape. There is empirical evidence of co-operation between culturally homogeneous groups several tens of thousands of years ago, between cities around five thousand years ago, and between modern states since the seventeenth century […]” (Wolfgang Hofkirchner, Peter Crowley, José María Díaz Nafría, Wilfried Graf, Gudrun Kramer, Hans-Jörg Kreowski, and Werner Wintersteiner 2017: Global Challenges Transformation – Connecting Global Citizens, Global Dialogue, and Global Governance. A proposal for the Global Challenges Award.

Hofkirchner showed in 2019, that with the help of biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory scientific statements about the evolution of social systems are easily feasible (Wolfgang Hofkirchner 2019: Social relations – Building on Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Syst Res Behav Sci., May/June 2019, vol. 36, issue 3, 263-273.

Now, a recent paper, co-authored by biologists, criticises the genetic fix of evolutionary thinking and develops a multilevel theory of cultural evolution that converges with the conclusions Hofkirchner arrives at concerning global change (Wolfgang Hofkirchner 2023: The Logic of the Third – A paradigm shift to a shared future for humanity. World Scientific, Singapore. See here:

The authors write (David Sloan Wilson, Guru Madhavan, Michele J. Govand, and Rita R. Colwell: Multilevel cultural evolution – From new theory to practical applications. PNAS, 10 April 2023. “Once we view human societies as products of cultural evolution, we can interpret their differences in the same way that biologists interpret differences among species due to a combination of isolation and response to different selection pressures […]. This is an advance over social constructivism in sociology and cultural anthropology, which, while properly critical of genetic determinism, did not adopt an evolutionary perspective to explain cultural diversity.
It is here that the concept of mismatch becomes central for the study of cultural evolution, no less than genetic evolution […]. In both cases, adaptations to past environments can become maladaptive in new environments. The human impact on the planet, which is so massive that it has been labeled the Anthropocene, has created genetic mismatches for nearly every species on earth—and cultural mismatches for nearly every human society on earth. What worked in the past can tragically misfire in the present. Only ongoing cultural evolution can solve this problem, and unless it is mindfully directed, it will result in pathological CAS2 systems rather than coordinated CAS1 systems.” (CAS1 are complex adaptive systems that are adaptive as a system, while CAS2 are composed of agents following their respective adaptive strategies. This difference is named by Hofkirchner true emergent systems vs. networks of interdependent, but not yet integrated lower-level systems.)

See a review of that paper here (

The view of Wilson et al. is clearly a paradigm change that contributes to the overall paradigm shift that allows to master the global challenges.


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