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Culture and Information

File:Britannica1778.jpg

1. Culture as Information

The history of cultures may be written in terms of information, information that arises (or is incorporated), information that is deleted or lost, information that is transformed and integrated as well as information that is active in controlling our perceptions, thoughts and actions.

A culture may thus be viewed as a bunch of information. What is passed from one generation to the next is a set of artifacts plus an amount of information that tells you how to do things, how to perceive or interpret the world, how to think, but also what has happened. When you perceive, think or do something, you may view this as something comparable to the execution of programs which may be viewed as a form of “active information”.

It should be noted that the information in a culture is not necessarily “true”. A culture might contain ideological information, for example. The cultural information might also contain fiction. Describing how such information is “acting” inside the workings of a culture is beyond the scope of this article.

Artifacts as well as institutions, procedures and organizations, can be viewed as a product of the information (the know-how of how to make or organize them and the plans of using that know-how). On the other hand, artifacts are also a source of new information since they normally have more properties than what the knowledge about them and about their production describes.

One may compare the cultural information to the genes or the genotype of organisms and the artifacts and actions of people “encoded” or “programed” by this information to the bodies and behaviors, or the phenotype, of organisms.

It should be noted that culture in this sense is not restricted to human beings, although human culture is by several orders of magnitude more complex than that of other species, even when we look at cultures without writing.

2. Creativity and Refelxivity

The term “creativity” may be used not only with respect to individuals but also with respect to whole cultures (and sub-groups of them). We could define it as the ability to generate new information. “New”, in this context, means that the information cannot be derived (in the sense of logical inferences or computations) from information that existed before.

There might be different ways new information (“innovation”) might arise. One source of new information is obviously the outside world the culture and its members are interacting with. Information of what happened is kept in memory or stored in other forms (e.g. writing) and this information can then be integrated into the way the culture is working.

An important property of information and its processing, and thus of culture, is its potential reflexivity. Information can be described by other information. We can think about ourselves and our cultures (and about our thoughts about them) and make changes to it. We can enter a meta-level of description and discourse.

Our reflections about culture, however, can never be exhaustive. Since culture is creative or innovative, new information can arise in it that cannot be derived from previously existing information; any description of it is incomplete or refers only to a certain stage in the historical development of the culture. Cultures are historically changing entities. The way the culture works and the way it develops can change, i.e. culture can reprogram itself.

Academic disciplines about culture can therefore not be sciences in the narrower sense of the word. A complete, exact theory of culture and history is not possible. Culture is an example of what I have called “programmed matter” in another article, and as such can be moved (or programmed) out of the scope of any theory about it.

3. Information Technology

Among all innovations, those that change the way information is exchanged, stored, transmitted, communicated, copied and processed are the most important ones. These include

  • language and its sub-systems (and I believe that this is actually an invented part of culture with only a very thin biological or genetic basis if any at all – but that’s a topic for another article),
  • logic or, more generally, methods of thinking (which, I think, are also largely cultural, not genetically determined),
  • mnemonic methods, including poetic meters, rhymes etc.
  • pictures (paintings etc.)
  • writing (with all the inventions supporting it, like ink, paper etc.)
  • schools, libraries, publishers and other institutions for storing and passing of information
  • mathematics (numbers…)
  • printing
  • postal services
  • bureaucracy, files etc.
  • notations (mathematical, chemical, music…)
  • telecommunication (telegraphs, telephones, etc.)
  • calculators
  • books
  • newspapers
  • dictionaries (see picture above)
  • scientific and scholarly methods
  • measurement instruments
  • microscopes
  • records, tapes, CDs, hard disks
  • electronic storage devices
  • computers
  • programming languages
  • the internet
  • blogs
  • smart phones

This (deliberately unsystematic) list is by far not exhaustive. More such things might come to your mind if you think about it. Some inventions (like writing, printing and computers) are more important than others. All these information technologies (in the widest sense of the word) change the way culture (as an information process) is working. So cultures are able to completely change their own infrastructure, i.e. the way they are implemented in terms of the physical world “below” them.

Storing and processing of information always uses up some resources, as does every process in a culture. But that aspect of culture or civilization – culture as a physical process consuming (and that might mean: destroying) resources, and the role information and creativity play in it – has to be the topic of a different article.

(The picture, showing the title page of an early edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, is from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Britannica1778.jpg. )

40 thoughts on “Culture and Information

  1. Very interesting, and the concept of “avant-garde” comes to mind when digesting this writing. Producing works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art and culture, is perhaps related to this “re-programing”. Now, even when all this “human” production may have begun with the origins of “language”, and it has been re-programmed over and over again for better or worst, I question human’s “abilities” as legitimate. A culture that has to depend on archeological events to proclaim “legitimacy”, for example. Language is communication, of course, but in any form or expression. It is free and universal. This is why the “avant-garde” transcends the language barrier. Nevertheless, our past is always in there, dictating norms and customs, through language.

    • The concept of “culture” as I am using it here is not only culture in the sense of art, literature and music. That is only a part of it. I am using the term to mean all of our knowledge, including technology, science, cooking etc.

      However, I find the term “avant-garde” quite useful. Some people (artists and poets, philosophers, scientists etc.) extend the scope of what can be perceived, thought, said and done. In many cases, this can be viewed as extending language. The universality of language and mind is in its openness and extensibility. Maybe such people are not more creative but more independent and bold.

      We must always start with something, so we depend on the tradition or the past. We interact with the world and the things we make and our knowledge of them grow together. I think you might be interested in this: https://asifoscope.org/2013/02/11/analytical-spaces/.

  2. It seems as if humans have been the only ones with this need to communicate “further”. Before humans existed, there was no need to write or draw inside of caves. Animals had no need to do it. When humans came along, this “pictorial” and “symbolic” meaning began to spread like a virus. Rituals began. Soon everyone had to do what the other was doing. Thus, human “civilization” begun.

    • The culture of weaponry: prehistoric humans had to build weapons in order to dominate the environment, but their killings were not “instinctive” as with the other beasts, they had to premeditate the act of killing and develop strategies to succeed. I agree with Darwinian postulates, but I firmly believe there was also a defective gene within the ancestors that was passed on and still prevails.

      • Although aggressively has a biological basis, I don’t think that we can blame our genes for war. There are examples of largely peaceful cultures. We are not instinct-driven in the way other animals are. The idea that war is “in our nature” seems to be widespread but I think it is wrong. However, some quasi-Darwinian evolution might be going on here, but not on the genetic but rather on the cultural or “memetic” level. Warrior cultures have been dominating in large parts of history simply because they are the ones who win while the peaceful ones tend to be destroyed.
        Western Europe, where I am living, is now largely peaceful (although my parents and grandparents have experienced war), but this peace is kept through economic success, it depends on us being rich. This economic strength, however, depends on the unsustainable exploitation of finite resources, so I am not sure this stretch of peace will continue forever.
        What I have written in https://asifoscope.org/2013/01/09/growth-and-creativity/ might be interesting in this respect.

        • You should check out chimpanzee societies. Chimps are a violent species. Violence is a natural capability of mammals and others but those social species who practice war and violence are a bit different. The branch of the tree of life we sit on has quite a bit of violence in it. I don’t have the smoking gun but that seems pretty strong evidence that violence is at least partly genetic in as much as it can impact our behaviors.

          • I agree. I read the other day I read that chimps have been observed using stones as weapons amongst themselves, hitting each other and having tantrum-like behaviors. But they kill for courtship reasons and other biological needs.

              • To say that agression is in our genetuc make-up, doesn’t mean that, as you say, our behaviour is inevitably victim to its “horrors” and cannot benefit from peaceful cultures which may indeed transcend previous chaotic ones. But the culture of warfare is there, nevertheless, and very much unlike that of the chimps. There are also schizophrenics who may not be able to practice Buddhism. There are ascetics who may develop dementia, and no culture or upbringing will be able to avoid this. So for me, culture is ephemeral, though it helps, as with the arts and education, with information to prevent previous mistakes. But the creation of “artifacts” is an exclusive skill that comes from the hominids. Only humans need “artifacts” to survive.

          • Chimps fight wars; that is true. I am not sure it is all instinctive behavior in their case; there might be a cultural component to it. There is definitely a genetic base for violence and aggressivity. But if people say that war is in our nature and so we can’t help it, I don’t take it. In humans, violence and aggressivity are cultivated, i.e. they are controlled by culture. A warrior or city gangsta behaving violently might live out some genetically preprogrammed behaviors, but he is doing so under the control of his violent culture in which such behavior is valued. A Quaker or a Buddhist monk (in most brands of Buddhism) will not behave violently because in his culture, it is seen as something negative. We are not controlled by our genetic programs but our genetic programs are shaped, modified, combined and controlled by our culture. In the generation of my grandparents, Germany, where I am living, started an extremely destructive war and committed a genocide. Now, it is a very peaceful country. Our genes are the same, but the culture has changed completely.

              • It might be repression of violence (although I don’t perceive myself as violent and suppressing violent urges that are actually there). However, the point is that humans are able to suppress such urges, if they are there. When this became possible, it became largely a matter of culture, not nature, how we behave. And definitely, we cannot derive ethics from genetics, as some people are trying to do.
                Violent cultures seem to dominate but I think the reason is that they tend to destroy the peaceful ones. They are winning under many historical conditions, although not always. So there may be some kind of selective evolution here, but on the cultural level.
                I don’t think that political leaders nowadays decide to go to war because they are having a chimp-like fit. They do it for political and economic reasons.

                • LOL. This has to remain one of the enigmas of politics. In some cases, one might suspect so🙂

                • My next door neighbor Buddhist might kill me tonight, but so could my siblings. I can try to defend myself, but if they succeed, I don’t think it has to do with culture.

            • …In humans, violence and aggressivity are cultivated…

              I agree completely. And the culture of domination, which supplanted an earlier culture of partnership, is controlled by a small minority of around 6%. Pathocracy got its chance at the end of the Paleolithic era and has managed to hold sway ever since.

              Learn more HERE. Part 1 of 3.

          • The “smoking gun” is psychopathy.

            PSYCHOPATHY: THE CAUSE OF EVIL
            Inherited and acquired psychological disorders and ignorance of their existence and nature are the primal causes of evil. The magic number of 6% seems to represent the number of humans who either carry the genes responsible for biological evil or who acquire such disorders in the course of their lifetime. This small percent is responsible for the vast majority of human misery and crime, and for infecting others with their flawed view of the world.”

            And the trigger of that gun is population size.

            It seems that humans are best adapted to Life in small groups with a maximum of no more than 150 members. Personally I think even 150 is too many.

            For most of human evolution the laws of Nature set the limits to growth, as, inevitably, they always will. Humans did not – could not – push against those limits to any significant degree prior to the Neolithic “revolution” and the onset of the disease we have come to think of as civilisation.

            It was the abandonment of the forager/gatherer/hunter “culture” that lead to the spawning of this “civilisation” and, ultimately, to our current unsustainable and irredeemable culture of domination. It’s my humble opinion that humans stopped evolving around 10 – 15 thousand years ago.

            Creating large stationary population centers, which probably began with the construction of monolithic structures for group “worship“, enabled the development of patriarchal hierarchies, which allowed the pathological minority to gain personal power, eventually becoming dominant over the social power of the majority. It was the social power of small, tribal, forager cultures that kept the essential psychopaths – the Kunlangeta – in check for hundreds of thousands of years.

            Essential psychopaths make up no more than around 6% of any given population and they are male by a wide majority. When a tribe or “society” consists of a very small number of individuals it’s quite likely there will be no sociopaths present. If there are, they will stand out like the proverbial “sore thumb”, making them easy to eliminate.

            Once civilisation began to “industrialise” – and sedentary farming was a primary impetus for industrialisation – it became, ipso facto, expansionistic, like a cancer. With that growth, for the first time, it became possible for the pathological to hide in the resultant hierarchies, seek each other out – a skill at which they excel – form cliques and cabals and rise to power.

            Capitalism, economics, militarism, classism, global warming/climate change and all the myriad “issues” confronting us today are merely symptoms of a disease – our much vaunted civilisation – which will, if not stopped very soon, result in its own collapse at the very least, mass ecocide and, possibly, even near-term human extinction.

            As long as pathological psychoses are part of the human condition, it will be impossible to build functional societies or cultures wherein populations can exceed 150 as the extreme maximum. Even that many in a group would be pushing it.

            Just my opinion

            • I agree with you on some points and I disagree with you on some others.
              I think that human civilization is on its way to self-destruction. Our planet’s resources are limited and we are using them up far more quickly than they can regrow. Ecosystems, biodiversity, raw materials, arable land, the capacity of earth to absorb our waste products, including gaseous ones, etc., are diminishing quickly. Our civilization is unsustainable, so it will not be sustained. It will either transform into something sustainable (but I see no signs of it doing so) or crash. I think on this we agree.

              In the current process of destruction, we are causing a mass extinction. It is on its way already (it actually started at the time of the hunter gatherers already with the extinction of a lot of large mammal species). I think we agree that there is a mass extinction going on.

              I am not so sure humans will become extinct when the civilization crashes. Most people depend on this civilization, so most will die when that happens. I expect a catastrophic breakdown during which billions will die. However, people have been living under extremely harsh conditions, so I find it likely that some will survive. It is possible that we will trigger a runaway greenhouse effect of the order of magnitude that seems to have happened in the Permian mass extinction. In that case, our species might actually become extinct. But otherwise, I expect it to survive. For the planet, that would, however, be bad news because the remaining people would continue to exploit the remaining resources and continue to find every exploitable resource, so I expect the current mass extinction to become especially severe because ecosystems will not have an opportunity to recover. I think you expect humans to die out soon. I expect human history to go on for tens of thousands of years. Since most resources, especially those that are easily reachable, have already been destroyed, there will be no second chance to build a technical civilization. Humans will live in small groups on a planet turned into a desert, and will fight about the small remaining resources. I don’t know which scenario is the better one. We maybe do not agree on this point, but it is not so important.

              The crucial point where I do not follow you is the theory that psychopaths are the main reason of the problem. I think if there were absolutely no psychopaths and everybody was a nice guy or nice girl, we would have ended up in the same kind of mess. I think the idea that psychopathy is the main problem is very central to your thinking but here is where we disagree. Let me try to explain what I think is the reason of the problem:

              • I think human beings differ from other animals in that we do not have a genetically fixed behavioral program. Our brains have an extreme degree of plasticity. While other animals have a genetically fixed way of life and therefore exploit only a limited type of resource each, humans are inventive and can find new ways to exploit resources they did not exploit before. In other articles, I have called this property of humans “creativity”. This started with the use of fire and flint stone and continued through the invention of agriculture and the industrial revolution.

              • The discovery of new ways to make use of things causes growth of populations and of their material systems or civilizations (we might also say: economies).

              • Those groups whose ideas and inventions will cause them to grow more quickly than other groups will “overgrow” those other groups in one way or another, by pushing them away, assimilating them, destroying them or causing them to take over those ideas that cause faster growth. You may compare this to genetic evolution. Ideas that cause growth will eventually become dominant.

              • As a result, what eventually develops is an economy with a growth ideology and an exploitative attitude towards nature, resources, and human beings, coupled with technological knowledge (in the widest sense of the word technology) of how to exploit all kinds of resources, with other words: the capitalist economy we see today.

              • The competing economies and businesses will not stop growing when the limit of what is possible in a sustainable way is reached. They will be structured in a way that makes them continue growing as long as they can, so they will exploit all available resources. Again, the fastest grower will win. As a result, the resources of the planet will be depleted until they are finished, leading to collapse.

              I think this course of history is nearly inevitable even without psychopaths. The presence of psychopaths might cause the process to go on a little bit faster, but I think they are not necessary.

              What emerges is a system of attitudes and world views that can be called the world view of a parasite, but it does not depend, I think, on the presence of individuals who are parasitic by their nature (no matter if that nature is the result of genes or acquired psychological disorders). The parasitic world view is institutionalized in governments, economic “science”, and businesses. For example, managers are paid for increasing the profits of the businesses or units they are managing. They might be nice people as individuals and still run an organization that, as a whole, acts in an evil way. Another example: we currently see the emergence of environmental denialism. An economy where such an attitude is stronger will continue growing unabatedly while another one that imposes limits on growth in order to protect the environment might be outperformed. The people who deny the reality of climate change or other environmental problems might be individually nice people but the economic system they are part of behaves as a parasite. What I see here is a set of ideologies, attitudes and institutional structures that causes fast growth. I think such a system emerges in an evolution-like process and it does so even if everybody is individually a nice person.

              You are probably right that the process starts once group sizes go beyond a certain size. That is part of the development, but I don’t think that psychopaths are a necessary ingredient. Technology (starting with fire and stones) causes growth, growth triggers crises, crises trigger inventiveness and new inventions trigger the next round of growth. Eventually, growth-inducing world views, attitudes and ideas become dominant because they create a technological basis that allows their bearers to outgrow others.

              There are historical examples of societies that stopped growing, resulting in stability and peace. I once saw a report on a small area in the Himalayas (I think it was Zanskar, but I am not sure) where they had not had a case of murder for about 600 years, people did not have to lock their homes because nobody was stealing and they did not even have a prison. The way they achieved this was that those who did not inherit land went into monasteries, becoming Buddhist monks and nuns. Those people would then not reproduce. One might like this solution or not, but it led to a very peaceful and stable society. However, it is now being destroyed by the “modern world” of India. You might, of course, say that maybe accidentally, the psychopathy genes (if such genes exist) where not present in that society, but I think the reason for their stability was that they found a solution to the growth problem. However, around them everybody else continued growing, so such societies will be destroyed, taken over and assimilated or just be destroyed sooner or later.

              In short, I think the parasitism of our “civilization” is not in our genes, but it is part of the culture. And it is rather inevitable that such a parasitic and destructive culture emerges because at each time, the culture that is structured in a way to cause it to grow fastest will “win”.

                • I think if there were absolutely no psychopaths and everybody was a nice guy or nice girl, we would have ended up in the same kind of mess. I think the idea that psychopathy is the main problem is very central to your thinking but here is where we disagree.

                  You’re correct in that assessment and I think it may be the only point upon which we have any significant disagreement.

                  Since I resurrected my “blog” I’ve been going through the entries, updating and discarding some of the old stuff. (i had saved the XML files from the baby and the bathwater and that’s how i restored the blog)

                  It occurred to me that my response to your comment would mostly be covered in a post I had done in a response to R.L. Culpeper about the same subject.

                  You say:

                  I think human beings differ from other animals in that we do not have a genetically fixed behavioral program. Our brains have an extreme degree of plasticity. While other animals have a genetically fixed way of life and therefore exploit only a limited type of resource each, humans are inventive and can find new ways to exploit resources they did not exploit before. In other articles, I have called this property of humans “creativity”. This started with the use of fire and flint stone and continued through the invention of agriculture and the industrial revolution.

                  From one of my most recent essays, The Big Picture:

                  “Human behaviour is widely believed to be essentially rational and therefore fundamentally distinct from the behaviour of all other animals. This leads automatically to a belief system that is best described as ‘anthropocentric’.”

                  Anthropocentrism:

                  (1) Viewing the world in terms of human experience and values.

                  (2) The belief that our species is the star that crowns an evolutionary Christmas tree of Life.

                  (3) The belief that humans are the pivot upon which our divinely ordained universe turns.

                  “Yet we share the planet with some 20 to 100 million other species, all of them genetically driven. One would think that only a deranged gambler would be fool enough to bet on the presence of a solitary exception in such a vast biota. In other words, anthropocentrism hinges on an extraordinary proposition, one that demands extraordinary proof. Unfortunately, none exists.

                  Not the slightest scrap of hard evidence, either morphological or genetic, suggests that Homo sapiens is not, like all animals, a natural by-product of genetic and Darwinian evolution. We should therefore assume that we, like they, are uncontaminated by any supra-natural influences. We may well be excellent communicators and tool-makers, and also the most self-aware, mystical and malicious animals on Earth, but overwhelming evidence shows that all these distinctions are of degree, not of kind. And yet the myth lives on.” (source)

                  Nevertheless, some of us managed to convince the rest that we somehow are indeed “god’s gift to the world”, superior to and masters of all other Life and all of Nature.

                  After all my years of struggling to understand the human condition (more than 50 of the 68 I’ve been alive spent in research, study and experience) I’ve reached a conclusion that will not be easily undone.

                  It seems clear to me that, since the event known as the Neolithic Revolution, the driving force behind the machinery of human history has been a very simple and fundamental thing. It can be stated quite clearly in only a few sentences.

                  To wit;

                  1) There is and seemingly has been for around ten to twelve thousand years, a small, psychopathic, subset of the species Homo sapiens who, being non-productive and unable or unwilling to provide for their own needs, have turned for their survival to deceit, contrivance, manipulation and all manner of mendacious behavior in order to exploit those who are productive contributors to the general welfare.

                  2) These parasites have exploited their fellows in every possible way, taking unearned benefits from their labour but returning nothing to the group, clan, tribe or society.

                  3) These individuals, usually essential psychopaths, also consider themselves vastly superior to those who unwittingly support them.

                  4) Consequently, for millennia, through the process of ponerogenesis, they and their descendants have pursued an utterly ruthless and inhuman agenda with the goal of subjugating and enslaving the rest of humanity, whom they consider to be inferior.

                  Yes, in my humble opinion, it really is that simple.

                  (i hope i’ve gotten the HTML right. i’m really trying to get wordpress to provide a “preview” option to let us proof our comments before final submission http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/a-suggestion-for-comments?replies=1)

      • …but I firmly believe there was also a defective gene within the ancestors that was passed on and still prevails.

        And I think you’re quite correct. But it “prevails” only in a minority – around 6%, essential psychopaths, nearly all males – who, thanks to that genetic aberration, have been able to consistently dominate the remaining 94% for at least 10,000 years. At the end of the Paleolithic we took A Wrong Turn On A One-Way Street.

        Just my opinion

  3. Thanks I will go there and read also. You’re right when you say “some quasi-Darwinian evolution might be going on here, but not on the genetic but rather on the cultural or “mimetic” level.” The concept of “mimetic desire” and “mimetic rivalry” has been studied by this philosopher (René Girard) and he does seem to support some predisposition to violence. This is why I value some of the concepts of Eastern philosophies that guide humans precisely in the direction of “taming” this mind. This is why they hold the idea that there are inherently no arguments possible nor necessary in life since “identity” will always be “in the way” and so thus, it must be overcome. But what is the reason that made pre-historic man build weapons, other than the perceived “helplessness” and “mimetic desire” from which humans build the foundation for their culture and rituals. And that was only the beginning.

  4. “But if people say that war is in our nature and so we can’t help it, I don’t take it. In humans, violence and aggressivity are cultivated, i.e. they are controlled by culture.”

    I’m not justifying war because of genetics, war may be cultivated and nourished by culture, but to what extent is my question. How does one know if there was indeed “mimetic rivalry” in societies that triggered wars, or the criminally insane who finally pulled the trigger. Are the pacifists helping out efficiently in this warfare matter?

    “However, the point is that humans are able to suppress such urges, if they are there. When this became possible, it became largely a matter of culture, not nature, how we behave. And definitely, we cannot derive ethics from genetics, as some people are trying to do.”

    For me, some of the fields involved with ethics evolved out of convenience. Take euthanasia for example, it was once highly unethical and now it is slowly evolving to become accepted in some cultures.

    In the U.S., it’s called “Physician aid-in-dying (PAD)” and refers to a practice in which a physician provides a [mentally] competent, terminally ill patient with a prescription for a lethal dose of medication, upon the patient’s request, which the patient intends to use to end his or her own life. It is an assisted form of suicide. The patient, however, must take the medicine him/herself. It is different from euthanasia, where the physician is the one administering the medicine.

    As to aggression, the criminally insane, could in my opinion, perhaps respond for their “defective” genes. The “ethical” dilemma of whether they can be held responsible for their actions or not, is what baffles the juridical norms of society and cultures.

    Nannus, I loved this post, and I almost died in laughter when you said:
    “I don’t think that political leaders nowadays decide to go to war because they are having a chimp-like fit. They do it for political and economic reasons.”

    • I think I have to come back to all of these interesting questions in future articles. Today, I wanted to write something totally different (some old memories from Italy) and now I don’t have time again to answer in detail. There is a lot of stuff here and I am going to come back to it.
      About the topic of punishment, you can read an older article: https://asifoscope.org/2013/01/15/punishment/

  5. This essay and the ensuant discussion has provided the material for my next post. Thank you for the inspiration.

    The concept of “culture” is one of those things that becomes exceedingly complex the more one thinks about it.
    Being an autodidact and generalist I try, as far as is possible, to break down excessive complexity, cast off as much minutia as I’m able and search for the “least common denominators“, the core components, the most deterministic initial conditions of any system.

    Chaos theory and the “butterfly effect“, the sensitivity to initial conditions, makes the behaviour of even highly deterministic systems unpredictable. Even the behaviour of systems not subject to random events becomes unpredictable due to deterministic chaos. So, the more we look at the spreading ripples, the less we understand the “artifact” that generated them.

    I have reached an essential conclusion with regard to “cultures“, which may also be thought of as “societies“, “communities” or even “civilisations“.

    The most deterministic condition for human “cultures” is population size.

    It seems that humans are best adapted to Life in small groups with a maximum of no more than 150 members. Personally I think even 150 is too many.

    Whenever a culture, society or civilisation exceeds that size limit its fate is sealed. It will inevitably succumb to ponerogenesis and pathocracy.

    If we could control or eliminate the genetic aberration that Maria F. speaks of and that you allude to when you speak of violence and aggression being “cultivated“, we would at last be presented with the possibility of creating a real civilisation.

    Just my opinion

    • I think the concept of “culture” is so complex because of human creativity. A finite description of definition of it is impossible because we can always invent something new. So culture is, in theory, infinitely complex.

      What will limit its complexity, in the end, is the limited resources of our planet that will eventually cause the collapse of our culture.

      I think the human brain does not have a fixed program, as do the brains of other animals. Some animals have a degree of plasticity as well, but it is limited in comparison to that of humans. The know-how of how to smelt iron, how to make cars etc. etc. is not in our genes. As a result, humans are able to find every available resource that is there and thus to extend our ecological niche until we are using (up) the whole planet and pushing every other species out. I would not say this view is anthropocentrism, but in this respect humans are indeed different. Other species do not have the potential to cause a mass extinction, we do. So the same inventiveness that causes culture to be of never-ending complexity is what causes us to be so destructive, because we find every way to exploit the world.

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  7. “Other species do not have the potential to cause a mass extinction, we do. So the same inventiveness that causes culture to be of never-ending complexity is what causes us to be so destructive, because we find every way to exploit the world.”- So well said Nannus, I couldn’t agree more. It is as if we had to “reinvent” the way we do things; but each time in a whole different manner.

    There is also a term called “Transculturation” which was coined by Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz in 1947 to describe the phenomenon of merging and converging cultures.

    “Transculturation encompasses more than transition from one culture to another; it does not consist merely of acquiring another culture (acculturation) or of losing or uprooting a previous culture (deculturation). Rather, it merges these concepts and additionally carries the idea of the consequent creation of new cultural phenomena (neoculturation). Ortiz also referred to the devastating impact of Spanish colonialism on Cuba’s indigenous peoples as a “failed transculturation.” Transculturation can often be the result of colonial conquest and subjugation, especially in a postcolonial era as native peoples struggle to regain their own sense of identity.”

    • Another interesting term I was interested in sharing here is “diaspora”. A “diaspora” (from Greek “scattering, dispersion”) is a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area. “Diaspora” can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland, almost always in an involuntary fashion.

      “Recently, scholars have distinguished between different kinds of diaspora, based on its causes such as imperialism, trade or labor migrations, or by the kind of social coherence within the diaspora community and its ties to the ancestral lands. Some diaspora communities maintain strong political ties with their homeland. Other qualities that may be typical of many diasporas are thoughts of return, relationships with other communities in the diaspora, and lack of full assimilation into the host country”- Wikipedia

      Interesting, when you think of this phenomena and the role of politics with the oppression of minorities when there is the “lack of full assimilation into the host country….”

      • Your comments contain interesting aspects and I think I am going to pick up those points in later articles.
        The concept of diaspora looks a bit problematic to me because it is not very well defined. For example, some people, especially in the US, are talking about a “black diaspora”. On first glance, this term seems unproblematic, especially if you look at the history of the trans-Atlantik slave trade. However, some slaves where sold within Africa. For example, some people where made into slaves and sold to the court of the Asantehene (Ashanti king) in what is now Ghana. Their ofspring (some of whom still have a slave-like status) are Africans living in Africa, born in Ghana, speaking the same Twi language as the people around them. Are they part of the Black diaspora? What about people taken slave in Darfur and sold in Khartoum, so the person has not even left his or her home country (as defined by political borders). What about my Cameroonian wife. She is traveling home regularly and exactly knows her “roots”, but she is living in Germany. Is she part of a Black or a Cameroonian diaspora and is that the same diaspora the “African Americans” are talking about. Inside Cameroon, she did not grow up in the area where her parents originally came from (Kom) but in another city (Limbe). In cameroonian Pidgin, the people from the Bamenda highlands where her parents came from where called by the people living in the Limbe area “come-no-go”, a slightly deprecative term. Are the “come-no-gos” a diaspora? Are they immigrants. They live in an area that does not speak their language and their children started speaking Pidgin, developing it into a full-blown creole language.
        Is my daughter part of that Diaspora? She is a German living in Germany. But she also is connected to Cameroon. I have a photograph of her with her mother, her grandmother and her greatgrandmother. She is in no sense uprooted, but rooted in two places. The same holds true for my German-Erithrean nephew. What about my two Liberian step-daughters, born in Liberia, who came to Germany during the war in Liberia and are now living in the US? They are part of a Liberian diaspora, but is that the same as that of the Atlantik-Slave-Trade African Americans? What about the son of one of these step daughters? His mother is Liberian, his father Turkish. He is living in Germany and has German citizenship, he has visited Turkey and speeks both German and Turkish accent free. Is he part of a Turkish diaspora in Germany or of an African or Liberian or Black diaspora? Some of his ancestors are Kurdish. My sister is in New Zealand. Which diaspora does she belong to? German, European, white? The term seems useful at first but somehow collapses when you look more closely. OK, not everybody has such a complex international family as I do.
        What do you have in the US? The first nations plus a mix of different diasporas? Or are the first nation the diaspora (some of them deported, some still in their original place), since they are the colonized minorities?
        Are you defining yourself as a member of a diaspora?

  8. “Diaspora” is a fancy term for addressing a people’s exile, be it for socioeconomic, sociopolitical, or religious reasons. Apparently any shift from a homeland is considered a “diaspora” but I don’t think it’s measured in terms of individuals, but on groups that reach a certain number and then leave. The U.S. had a huge “diaspora” of European immigrants who colonized the whole nation.

    The “diaspora” is defined as the people who leave in huge masses, not necessarily the minorities who are already living in a country. The term “minorities” is not necessarily a pejorative term because there are minorities who have already become citizens (or have been “naturalized”) in the U.S.. The term “diaspora” goes into deeper issues such as accepting citizenship in a foreign country. A “diaspora” may be for example the mass of Cubans who landed on the coasts of Florida after the Cuban revolution who “exiled” the island (there were intellectuals as well as criminals in this group), or the many hispanic groups that try to enter the U.S. illegally; nevertheless, to constitute a “diaspora” they must request exile from the government.

    “Cultural assimilation” is a huge issue where I come from because P.R. is still a colony of the U.S. (which means we are U.S. citizens but the island itself is a self-ruled territory). Yes, there was a huge “diaspora” in P.R. in the 1960’s, a huge number left to work in N.Y., but there were always cultural assimilation issues, and still continue. For this reason, P.R. is still seeking independence (some seek to become a state of the U.S. but it will not be).

  9. The U.S. now is dealing with a “Hispanic” (or “Latino” diaspora), which is a large number of hispanics who were given permission to work in the country, but who do not know English but must work there. Not only is there a language barrier but other issues they must face such as earning lower wages and competing in a highly capitalistic society. In the U.S. is now mandatory to take “cultural competency” courses and training at universities to be able to help not only Hispanics, but Haitians who are also a diaspora. “Cultural sensitivity” is another term that is used and is an asset in getting jobs in the U.S.. If you are a “culturally sensitive” individual, you must know how to speak basic phrases in Spanish (or in other languages), and be acquainted with certain aspects of different cultures. If you do not know to speak the language, it is your responsibility to provide a translator. This is what makes you “culturally sensitive”. Cultural competency is an imperative skill in schools, hospitals, and working environments, so many universities are testing students on this level.

  10. Pingback: Increasing the Bandwidth | The Asifoscope

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