Cosmic evolution

Cosmic evolution is the scientific study of universal change. It is an intellectual framework that offers a grand synthesis of the many varied changes in the assembly and composition of radiation, matter, and life throughout the history of the universe. While cosmic evolution attempts to integrate in other scientific theories such as evolution, it is not itself a theory or a product of reproducible evidence leading to acceptance by the scientific community. While engaging the time-honored queries of who we are and whence we came, this interdisciplinary subject attempts to unify the sciences within the entirety of natural history—a single broad scientific narrative of a possible origin and evolution of all material things, from an inferred big bang to humankind. (Closely related subjects include epic of evolution, big history, and astrobiology). It makes use of ideas of information theory, chaos theory, complexity, systems, and emergence.
Historical aspects
The roots of cosmic evolution extend back millennia. Indian philosophy with sages like Yajnavalkya introduced cyclic concepts to a world view. Early Greek philosophers of the fifth century BCE, most notably Heraclitus, are celebrated for their reasoned claims that all things change. Its modern history began more than a century ago, including the wide insights of Robert Chambers, Herbert Spencer, and Lawrence Henderson. Only in the mid-20 century was the cosmic-evolutionary scenario articulated as a research paradigm to include empirical studies of galaxies, stars, planets, and life—in short, an expansive agenda that combines physical, biological, and cultural evolution. Harlow Shapley communicated the idea to the public at mid-century, and NASA embraced it in the late 20 century as part of its more limited astrobiology program. Carl Sagan, Eric Chaisson, Hubert Reeves, Steven Dick, and J.T. Fraser among others, became dedicated proponents of cosmic evolution in its current form writ large, and it now continues to be more intricately formulated as both a technical research program and a scientific worldview for the 21 century. It has also been adapted to the study of the arts by Frederick Turner and Alexander Argyros, who view the arts as microcosms of cosmic evolution. The emergentist psychology of Clare Graves, which sees the human mind and societies as co-emerging into more complex levels, also fits well into the cosmic evolution paradigm.
The flow of time
The arrow of time provides a convenient archetypical symbol for cosmic evolution. Seven major epochs are arrayed across 14 billion years of time—a compact collection of salient features of cosmic history from its fiery origins to the here and now. The arrow captures the sequence of events based on a large body of post-Renaissance observational and experimental data—a continuous thread of change from simplicity to complexity, from inorganic to organic, from chaos in the early universe to order more recently. Evolution, broadly considered, has become a powerful unifying factor in all of science, bridging numerous academic disciplines—including physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, and anthropology, among others—thus forging an interdisciplinary scientific story of epic proportions that includes every known class of structured object in our richly endowed universe. J.T. Fraser in particular argues for what he calls an umwelt theory of time, or of emerging forms of time experience. This theory is intended to unify the different levels of complexity in the universe, going from the initial energy of the Big Bang to quantum physical particle-waves to molecules to living organisms to the complexity of the human mind, with each level experiencing time in increasingly complex ways.
Cosmological Thermodynamics
Notable among quantitative efforts to describe cosmic evolution is the concept of energy flow through open, thermodynamic systems, including galaxies, stars, planets, and life forms. Information non-equilibrium content is another potential metric to model the subject, though informational bits and bytes might be akin to energy acquired, stored, and expressed within ordered systems. The observed increase of energy rate density (energy/time/mass) among a whole host of ordered systems is one useful way to address the rise of complexity in an expanding universe that still obeys the 2 law of thermodynamics and thus continues to accumulate net entropy. As such, material systems—from insects and trees to stars and sentient beings—are viewed as temporary, local islands of order in a vast, global sea of disorder.
Evolution Writ Large
Accordingly, biological evolution is a small, albeit important, subset of a more extensive evolutionary scheme stretching across all of space and all of time. Nothing entirely random pertains, as systems are “non-randomly eliminated” as unfit for their environments by dynamically mixing chance with necessity, or randomness with determinism, thereby deciding the winners and losers throughout Nature regardless of whether those systems are quarks or quasars, microbes or minds. Most contemporary researchers consider the term cosmic evolution as all-encompassing, thereby incorporating different types of evolutionary change within and among many temporal epochs:
* Cosmic Evolution
** Eras: physical evolution-->biological evolution-->technological evolution
*** Epochs: particulate-->galactic-->stellar-->planetary-->chemical-->biological-->technological
Although by no means the culmination or pinnacle of the evolutionary process, technologically intelligent humans, as a quintessential expression of cultural evolution, now reflect back upon the profound series of changes that brought us forth. Considering culture’s possible logical outcome, we may already exist in a postbiological universe—one that has evolved beyond flesh and blood intelligence to artificial intelligence. Such proposals help to inform the search for extraterrestrial life, asserting the importance of biological and cultural evolution as key elements of cosmic evolution and not separate from it. Whether humankind is alone in the universe or among many other sentient beings, cosmic evolution remains a viable explanation of our material origins.
Physical cosmology
Some researchers (notably astrophysicists) restrict their view of cosmic evolution to change within stars and galaxies, confining the adjective “cosmic” to only astronomical objects during mostly the first several billion years of the universe. Others (astrobiologists) also limit their study of this subject, working among more specialized venues such as planets and moons suitable for life during the most recent few billion years. Still others argue that cosmology is the study of the cosmos as a whole, and thus study even at the smallest perspective is arguably studying the cosmos.
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