Cosmic Evolution
Cosmic Evolution Glossary

Cosmic Evolution: Glossary

Evolution - The Big Picture
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Abiogenesis The development of life from non-living systems via natural mechanisms. (W. R. Elsberry via W.J. Hudson)

Abiotic The non-biological aspects of the cosmos (MAK)

Anthropocentric, Anthropocentrism Centering on humans and considering or relating all other things to man; for example the biblical idea that only man has a divine soul, or the belief that humans are of greater moral worth than other species, or that the human species is the summit of creation.

Ascent the idea that evolution involves a progression from a lower or less complex, to a higher or more complex, state of being, interpreted mythopoetically or spiritually. Rejected by many scientists, such as Stephen Jay Gould. See also Conscious evolution (MAK)

Astrobiology the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.

Autopoïesis An organized self contained system whose parts and systems integrate seamlessly in a relationship of form and function; the process by which a system regenerates itself through the self-reproduction of its own elements and of the network of interactions that characterize them. An autopoietic system renews, repairs, and replicates or reproduces itself in a flow of matter and energy. (Wikipedia glossary)


Big History Conventionally, history is typically limited to the written word and the narrative of past events as relating to the human race; but this encompasses only the past 5,000 years or so. Big history arose as a distinct field in the late 1980s and is related to, but distinct from, world history, as it looks at the past on all time scales, from the Big Bang to modernity, seeking out common themes and patterns. It uses a multi-disciplinary approach from the latest findings, such as biology, astronomy, geology, climatology, prehistory, archeology, anthropology, cosmology, natural history, and population and environmental studies. Big History arose from a desire to go beyond the specialized and self-contained fields that emerged in the 20th century and grasp history as a whole, looking for common themes across the entire time scale of history. In a sense, the Palaeos website is concerned with Big History. Compare Deep Time, Universe Story (from Wikipedia)

Big Picture, The Life, the universe, and everything (Adams. D. 1982), a theory or philosophy that takes into account, or attempts to explain, the whole of existence. (MAK)

Biosphere life as a planetary phenomenon, the global ecosystem, the totality of life on Earth, or on other planets in the universe. See also Gaia hypothesis


Closed system A state of being isolated from the environment. No system can be completely closed; there are only varying degrees of closure. See also open system (Wikipedia glossary)

Complex system a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties (behavior among the possible properties) not obvious from the properties of the individual parts. A system's complexity may be of either disorganized complexity and organized complexity. Disorganized complexity is a matter of a very large number of parts, and organized complexity is a matter of the subject system (quite possibly with only a limited number of parts) exhibiting emergent properties. Examples of complex systems that complexity models are developed for include ant colonies, human economies and social structures, climate, nervous systems, cells and living things, including human beings, as well as modern energy or telecommunication infrastructures. Indeed, many systems of interest to humans are complex systems. Complex systems are studied by many areas of natural science, mathematics, and social science. Fields that specialize in the interdisciplinary study of complex systems include systems theory, complexity theory, systems ecology, and cybernetics. See also emergence, system theory. (Wikipedia)

Complexity A systemic characteristic that stands for a large number of densely connected parts and multiple levels of embeddedness and entanglement. Not to be confused with complicatedness, which denotes a situation or event that is not easy to understand, regardless of its degree of complexity. (Wikipedia glossary)

Complexification in emergent evolution, Teilhard de Chardin's observation that the greater the external complexity, the greater the degree of "inwardness" or consciousness. While teleology remains a metaphysical premise, complexification is evident in simple observations such as that life shows greater complexity in structure and behaviour to inanimate matter, that eukaryote organisms and ecosystems are more complex and diverse than prokaryotes alone, that metazoans with more complex nervous systems or social structures show more elaborate behaviour, learning and problem solving than those without, and so on. (MAK)

Conscious evolution the premise that consciousness is able to direct its own evolution; that in various ways we can evolve ourselves to a higher state, both on a socio-cultural and an individual level. Spiritual evolution is similar or the same; it refers to any of a number of philosophical/theological/esoteric ideas and beliefs that nature and human beings and/or human culture evolve along a particular cosmological pattern or ascent, or in accordance with certain pre-determined potentials, or towards a specific ideal or greater goodness. Contrast with metaphysical naturalism. (MAK, Wikipedia)

Consciousness pertaining to subjective or "inner" experience and existence, awareness, sense of selfhood, and including as its contents the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. The evolutionary philosopher Teilhard de Chardin used the term complexification to refer to the relation between "outer" complexity and "inner" consciousness.

Cosmology the study of the nature and structure of the universe, either from the standpoint of science (specifically physics and astrophysics), philosophy, esotericism, mythology, or religion. Generally a distinction is made cosmogony which refers to the study of origins of the Universe, but in practice the two are usually considered together. From a science perspective, cosmology and cosmogony include the Big Bang theory and hypotheses on the early history of the universe and the formation of galaxies and stars (MAK)

Culture The result of individual learning processes that distinguish one social group of higher animals from another. In humans culture is the set of products and activities through which humans express themselves and become aware of themselves and the world around them. (Wikipedia glossary)

Cyclic in pre-modern cosmologies time as limited and repeating, the original inspiration here seems to have have been the movement of the celestial bodies and the regularity of the seasons. In the case of Eastern philosophy time consists of infinite aeons, but there is no evolution. In modern cosmology, the theory that our present universe is only one in an indefinite or infinite sequence of universes. (MAK)


Lorenz attractor

Lorenz attractor

By Wikimedia users Wikimol and Dschwen

Deep Time time considered in terms of geological or cosmological processes, millions or tens of millions or even billions of years; as opposed to mere decades or centuries of historical time.

Directionality (in evolution) as here defined, the premise that evolution begins with simple or primitive structures or forms of life and moves to greater complexity or perfection; hence some forms of life are more complex, advanced, or evolved relative to others. Whilst the emergence of complexity is a self-evident fact, philosophers and scientists are divided over whether evolution itself is directional. See also complexification, emergence, great story. (MAK)

Dissipative structure A term invented by Ilya Prigogine to describe complex chemical structures undergoing the process of chemical change through the dissipation of entropy into their environment, and the corresponding importation of "negentropy" from their environment. Also known as syntropic systems. (Wikipedia glossary)

Dynamic(al) System Concept in mathematics where a fixed rule describes the time dependence of a point in a geometrical space. Examples include the mathematical models that describe the swinging of a clock pendulum, the flow of water in a pipe, and the number of fish each springtime in a lake. The Lorenz attractor (left) is an example of a non-linear dynamical system. Studying this system helped give rise to Chaos theory. (Wikipedia)


Emanation the metaphysical premise that Reality proceeds through a process of outflowing from a first Principle or Source, generally in a series of stages, so that the original emanation gives rise to a further principle or principles, and so on in turn, each more limited than the previous. Emanationism rejects creation out of nothing. Not incompatible with evolution. (MAK)

Emergence also Spontaneous order, self-organization. The appearance of novel characteristics exhibited on the level of the whole ensemble, but not by the components in isolation. (Wikipedia glossary). In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. From this perspective, an integrative level, or level of organization, is a set of phenomena emerging on pre-existing phenomena of lower level. Typical examples include snowflakes forming complex symmetrical patterns, life emerging on non-living substances, insect colonies, and consciousness emerging on nervous systems. Strong emergence is a type of emergence in which the emergent property is irreducible to its individual constituents. See also Evolution, Evolutionary directionality. Contrast with Creationism, Intelligent design. (from Wikipedia)

Endosymbiosis A relationship in which one organism lives inside another, to the mutual benefit of both (these are called endosymbionts). Examples are nitrogen-fixing bacteria (called rhizobia) which live in root nodules on legume roots, single-celled algae inside reef-building corals, and bacterial endosymbionts that provide essential nutrients to about 10%–15% of insects. It is generally accepted that early in the evolutionary history of Eukarya, eukaryote cells engulfed bacteria, forming a symbiotic relationship, which became so mutually interdependent, that they behaved as a single organism; these include mitochondria and chloroplasts. (from Wikipedia and UCMP Understanding Evolution Glossary)

Entropy the measure of energy that is expended in a physical system but does no useful work, and tends to decrease the organizational order of the system. Entropy determines the energy not available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when converting energy to work. During this work, entropy accumulates in the system, but has to be removed by dissipation in the form of waste heat. The concept of entropy is defined by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy of an isolated system always increases or remains constant. Although life locally reverses entropy by creating more complex systems, this is because it exists as an open system (deriving energy from outside, e.g. from sunlight); the amount of disorder in the cosmos as a whole does not decrease. (Wikipedia glossary, Wikipedia, MAK)

Evolution in Systems Theory, the tendency toward greater structural complexity, ecological and/or organizational simplicity, more efficient modes of operation, and greater dynamic harmony. A cosmic process specified by a fundamental universal flow toward ever increasing complexity that manifests itself through particular events and sequences of events that are not limited to the domain of biological phenomenon, but extend to include all aspects of change in open dynamic systems with a throughput of information and energy. In other words, evolution relates to the formation of stars from atoms, of Homo sapiens from (other) anthropoid apes, and the formation of complex societies from rudimentary social systems. (Wikipedia glossary) Biological evolution is a subset of this, not synonymous. See also directionality. Note, does not imply teleology.

Evolutionism acceptance of one or more evolutionary theories or worldviews, based upon the overwhelming evidence found for such; philosophy of inevitable development. The opposite of Creationism. (MAK)



Gaia hypothesis The theory, formulated by the environmentalist James Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s, that all life on Earth, as well as their inorganic surroundings form a single and self-regulating complex system, maintaining the conditions for life in the planet. The scientific investigation of this hypothesis focuses in the observation of how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms contribute to the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere and other factors of habitability. Remains a controversial topic in some areas of the scientific community, although basically accepted in fields like geophysiology and Earth system science. (from Wikipedia)

Geological time The period of time extending from the formation of the earth to the present. (USGS Paleontology glossary). c.f. deep time (MAK)


Holism A non-reductionist descriptive and investigative strategy for generating explanatory principles of whole systems. Attention is focused on the emergent properties of the whole rather than on the reductionist behavior of the isolated parts. The approach typically involves and generates empathetic, experiential, and intuitive understanding, not merely analytic understanding, since by the definition of the approach, these forms are not truly separable. (Wikipedia glossary)

Human big-brained erect hairless primate, who tends to have a weakness for anthropocentric cosmology (MAK)


Individual evolution Common cultural, spiritual, and New Age belief that evolution occurs on an individual level. Also used by Creationists to attack evolutionary science (presumably as an example of the arrogance of man in thinking he can get to higher state without God's help). In fact evolutionary science does not recognise individual evolution, but instead only refers to the evolution of populations via selection of randomly occurring mutations. Compare with conscious evolution, socio-cultural evolution (MAK)

Information message or collection of messages that consists of an ordered sequence of symbols, or it is the meaning that can be interpreted from such a message or collection of messages. Information can be recorded or transmitted. It can be recorded as signs, or conveyed as signals by waves. Information is any kind of event that affects the state of a dynamic system. The concept has numerous other meanings in different contexts (Wikipedia)

Information theory branch of applied mathematics and electrical engineering involving the quantification of information. Information theory was developed by Claude E. Shannon to find fundamental limits on signal processing operations such as compressing data and on reliably storing and communicating data. Since its inception it has broadened to find applications in many other areas, including statistical inference, natural language processing, cryptography generally, networks other than communication networks, as in neurobiology, the evolution and function of molecular codes, model selection in ecology, thermal physics, quantum computing, plagiarism detection and other forms of data analysis. (Wikipedia)

Intelligence difficult to define quality associated with developed consciousness. Considered to include the abilities for abstract thought, understanding, communication, reasoning, learning, planning, emotional intelligence and problem solving. Intelligence is most widely studied in humans, but has also been observed in animals and plants. Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines or the simulation of intelligence in machines. (Wikipedia)

Intelligent Design proposition that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." Often creationism restated in non-religious terms, although there are also New Age and ancient astronaut (panspermia) versions as well. May include the traditional teleological argument for the existence of God.


Jantsch, Erich (1929-1980) Austrian astrophysicist whose 1979 lectures in System Science at the University of California in Berkeley became the basis for his book The Self-Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications of the Emerging Paradigm of Evolution (Pergamon Press, 1980). This now long out of print work deals with self-organization as a unifying evolutionary paradigm that incorporates cosmology, biology, sociology, psychology, and consciousness. Jantsch is inspired by and draws on the work of Ilya Prigogine concerning dissipative structures and nonequilibrium states. (Wikipedia) Although superseded by more recent developments in system science, this book exerted a very strong influence on me (MAK) when I read it in the early 1980s, and still inspired because of the author's elegant presentation of a big picture "integral" worldview (MAK)



Life characteristic that distinguishes objects that have signaling and self-sustaining processes (i. e., living organisms, but could also apply to virtual life, artificial or machine life, etc) from those that do not. Living organisms undergo metabolism, maintain homeostasis, possess a capacity to grow, respond to stimuli, reproduce and, through natural selection, adapt to their environment in successive generations. There is no reason why life should only be limited to Earth; it is certain that suitable planets elsewhere in the universe would also contain evolving life. The totality of life on Earth (or any planet or self-contained ecosystem, e.g. a future base on Mars) at any moment is called the biosphere. (MAK, Wikipedia).


Macro-evolution as defined by Erich Jantsch, this does not refer to speciation, as in the conventional definition, but to evolution at the cosmic, environmental, collective, and social level, which interacts with evolution at the individual level. (MAK)

Metaphysics branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the nature of being and the world, and which seeks to clarify the fundamental questions of nature of existence, including existence, properties, space, time, causality, and the nature of being (ontology), God (theology), consciousness, the Mind-Body problem, and the nature of the universe (cosmology).

Micro-evolution as defined by Erich Jantsch, this does not refer to intra-specific variation and selection, as in the conventional definition, but to evolution at either the individual or the population level, which interacts with evolution at the collective and environmental level. (MAK)

Multicellular organism an organism consisting of a hierarchical assemblage of cells, or in complex multicellular organisms, systems (for example circulatory, digestive, or reproductive) themselves collections of organs; these are, in turn, collections of tissues, which are themselves made of cells (from Wikipedia)


Naturalism Methodology of science, as opposed to philosophy, religion, etc, that explains the material universe without recourse to supernatural or teleological factors.. Naturalism does not necessarily claim that phenomena or hypotheses commonly labeled as supernatural do not exist or are wrong (in fact it remains agnostic about such things), but insists that all phenomena and hypotheses can be studied by the same methods and therefore anything considered supernatural is either nonexistent, unknowable, or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.

Negentropy the fact that life appears to move in the direction against entropy (from disorder to order) is explained by living system exporting "negative entropy" to keep its own entropy low; see open system. The concept and phrase "negative entropy" were introduced by Erwin Schrödinger in his 1943 popular-science book What is Life?. Later, Arthur Koestler, Edward Haskell, and New Age/New Paradigm writers gave the term or its equivalents (ectropy, syntropy) a quasi-teleological meaning.

Noosphere sometimes spelt noösphere, thesis developed, either independently or jointly, by Édouard Le Roy (French mathematician and Bergsonian philosopher), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Vladimir Vernadsky in the 1920s, to describe the "sphere of human thought" (Greek nous "mind"), by analogy with "geosphere", "atmosphere", "biosphere", etc. The Noosphere is considered the latest sphere of earth evolution, but is interpreted differently by Teilhard, Vernadsky, and modern authors. For example today it is frequently identified with the Internet. (MAK, Wikipedia)


Open system in systems theory, a system where matter or energy can flow into and/or out of the system, in contrast to a closed system, where energy can enter or leave but matter may not. See also complex system, dissipative structure, negentropy. Life, evolution, and complexification are only possible within open systems. adapted from Wikipedia

Open System model

Diagram of an Open System.

From Wikipedia (Image from Track: Organizational Development from the CSAP INSTITUTE FOR PARTNERSHIP DEVELOPMENT form the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Public domain).


Panspermia the hypothesis that life did not originate on Earth but was seeded from elsewhere in the universe. Still doesn't explain how life appeared in the first place. Includes Intelligent Design or naturalistic interpretations, or both (ETs). Links: Panspermia (large web site, naturalistic approach); Problems with Panspermia or Extraterrestrial Origin of Life Scenarios

Pantheism, Panentheism Pantheism is a form of monism that asserts that God is the same as the cosmos, and vice versa. Hence divine laws and natural laws are the same. Einstein famously advocated this position; he was inspired by the philosophy of Spinoza. Pantheism allows both science and spirituality and metaphysics to co-exist. Also popular in the New Age movement. Panentheism is similar except that it asserts that God is not only the same as the cosmos and everything in it (pantheism), but also transcends the cosmos. Panentheism tends to be preferred by mystics, and ties in also with emanation. (MAK)

Phylogeny term coined by Haeckel and properly applied to the evolutionary tree of life, although there is no reason why this can cannot be extended to a "phylogeny of matter". (MAK)




Self-organization process in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source. Self-organizing systems typically (though not always) display emergent properties. See also Directional Evolution, Erich Jantsch. (Wikipedia glossary)

Socio-biological evolution Erich Jantsch refers to socio-biological evolution as the second of three main evolutionary stages, the other two being cosmic and Socio-cultural evolution. c.f. ethology, sociobiology (MAK)

Socio-cultural evolution directional change at the social, cultural, or civilisational level. Popular in (more) Erich Jantsch refers to Socio-cultural evolution as the third of three main evolutionary stages, the other two being cosmic and socio-biological. c.f. conscious evolution, individual evolution (MAK)

System a set of interacting or interdependent system components forming an integrated whole. The scientific research field which is engaged in the study of the general properties of systems include systems theory, cybernetics, dynamical systems, thermodynamics and complex systems. They investigate the abstract properties of the matter and organization, searching concepts and principles which are independent of the specific domain, substance, type, or temporal scales of existence. Most systems share common characteristics, including:


Systems theory the transdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of elucidating principles that can be applied to all types of systems in all fields of research. The term does not yet have a well-established, precise meaning, but systems theory can reasonably be considered a specialization of systems thinking and a generalization of systems science. The term originates from Ludwig von Bertalanffy's General System Theory (GST). In this context the word "systems" is used to refer specifically to self-regulating systems, i.e. that are self-correcting through feedback. Self-regulating systems are found in nature, including the physiological systems of our body, in local and global ecosystems, and in climate. See also complex system, emergence. (Wikipedia)


Stylised representation of the triune brain

Stylised representation of the triune brain

Teleology the philosophical supposition that there is design, purpose, directive principle, or final causes in the works and processes of nature, and therefore that either design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature, or that evolution is being pulled to a final goal or consumation. Teleology was explored by Plato and especially Aristotle, by Saint Anselm, and Immanuel Kant (Critique of Judgment). Philosophers and thinkers like Hegel, Marx and Engels, Henri Bergson (Creative Evolution), Teilhard de Chardin (evolutionary theology), and Ken Wilber (Integral Theory), are among the many who have in different ways have advocated a teleological theory of evolution. Both philosophical naturalism and teleology investigate the existence or non-existence of an organizing principle behind those natural laws and phenomena investigated by science. Philosophical naturalism asserts that there are no such principles, whereas teleology asserts that there are (see archetype, vitalism). Teleology is rejected by both metaphysical naturalism (e.g. Richard Dawkins), neo-pragmatism, and postmodern philosophy (as an example of a "grand narrative"). (MAK, and Wikipedia glossary)

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre French Jesuit paleontologist who integrated Catholicism, panentheism, and naturalistic theories of evolution into an evolutionary cosmology and theology, according to which matter (the external reality) evolves towards greater and greater consciousness (the inner reality), culminating in an Omega Point of shared God-Consciousness (MAK)

Theism philosophy, theology, or religion that centers on the supreme being of supernatural religions (note that Buddhism is an atheistic religion and so does not believe in a supreme deity). In a broader sense, any mystical or ultimate reality. Compare with pantheism. (MAK)

Triune brain The triune brain is a model of the evolution of the vertebrate forebrain and behavior proposed by the American physician and neuroscientist Paul D. MacLeanin the 1960s, and popularised through Carl Sagan's 1977 book The Dragons of Eden. The triune brain consists of the reptilian complex, the paleomammalian complex (limbic system), and the neomammalian complex (neocortex), which are considered structures sequentially added to the forebrain in the course of evolution. The model was very influential in the new age/new paradigm movement but never won wide acceptance among comparative neurobiologists or evolutionary neuroanatomists. (from Wikipedia)


Universe Story understanding of the emergent evolution of the universe and life and intelligence as not simply a quantitative fact but a sacred or meaningful story (and alternative to the supernaturalism of traditional mythic-literalist religion), proposed by ecotheologian Thomas Berry and cosmologist Brian Swimme, both influenced by Teilhard de Chardin but rejecting the excessive anthropocentrism of the latter's writings. See also big history, deep time, pantheism






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