Excerpts from Introduction to Third Phase Transition: Solving The Anthropocene Crisis

On the first phase transition

“The first phase should be termed harvesting metabolism. The early beginnings of hunting and gathering might be traced a few million years back. That is, if we include the first hominins, the ancestry which was to be progressively characterised by features like upright walk, handicraft, control of fire, development of language, collective accumulation and transmission of knowledge and practices through generations. But Homo would prove to be the successful genus and sapiens its only surviving species. Eventually it would become globally dominating. Therefore, the entire evolution of hominins up to sapiens should be conceptually determined as a first phase transition. In retrospect it can be conceived of as leading out of the animal kingdom and into self-organising and collectively self-evolving human society.

Natural selection had manifested itself, to a rising degree throughout the first phase transition, in mental capacities substituting for and atrophying those of physical force. This because the survival fitness of our pre-speciation had been drifting increasingly from individual features towards those favouring socially organic combination. A distinctively collective speciation had emerged. Our species had eventually resulted from genetical selection for cooperative qualities. And cooperation itself had increasingly been driving and boosting this selection, up until the occurence and success of modern humans.

Preparation of meat and plants had brought with it a radical reduction in energy required for human digestion. It had shrunk to a fraction of what was needed by animals. Increasing size and energy consumption of the human brain had been provided for by harnessing fire. This had further increased the power of cooperation. Cooperation and fire had become a self-reinforcing evolutionary spiral, leading up to modern humans. Human use of the unique consumption power of fire had amplified that of harvesting metabolism. The original human fire regime had ignited a take-off, in socio-natural co-evolution.”

.“Finally, looking at reproduction, however, probably paints the sharpest relief for understanding how the evolutionary advantage had emerged and been selected for, as mental features had been prioritised by evolution for physical ones, in hominids evolving into hominins. The less wide pelvis, required for upright walk, and the bigger heads, required for a cooperative brain, had tended to collide. How would the slimmer females be able to deliver these large skulls? …

Regardless, the result seems to have been delivery of an unfinished foetus, measured by animal standards. The proportionally much greater brain was, nevertheless, not fully developed at birth. The brain of the human child would nearly double during the first year. This explosive growth is nowhere near, neither the decelerating growth of most other parts of the body, nor the ceasing growth by closely related animals. Then, what was the survival advantage of this? At first sight, evolution had seemingly burdened hominins with an initially unfit offspring?

But precisely this had shifted the focus, to how the group of hominins would be able to protect and rear the helpless kids. Already the need for assisted birth, had displayed a qualitative difference from other animals. Birthing had become a cooperative labour. And the mother of the helpless baby would be directly dependent on her human environment, to get any food. Then, the entire hominin flock was forced to focus on how to compensate for the apparent underdevelopment of the new-borns. During an intense first year, the senses of the baby were completely focused on assimilating, as efficiently as possible, to the rapidly growing brain, the cooperative advantages that had been achieved culturally thus far. What might have seemed like initial unfitness, consequently contained expanded reproduction of the very core in human survival fitness. Early infancy, corresponding to late gestation of animals, had by hominins transformed into an intensely combined biological and social development process. Thereby the notion ‘extrauterine foetuses,’ referring to the tiny tots that had become the common task of the entire group to culturally refine. And the flock of grown-ups needed to focus this critical bottleneck of survivability. Arguably, survival of the helpless infants had become the very organising principle of emerging cooperativity.”

Go back to quotes