Socio-Cultural Glossary

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


Absolute reality in pantheism, eastern philosophy and emanationist metaphysics the essential limitless, perfect, nature of things. An alternative to the concept of a supernatural creator. (MAK)

Anthropocene informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth's ecosystems. The term was coined in 2000 by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on the Earth's atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological era for its lithosphere. In 2008 a proposal was presented to the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London to make the Anthropocene a formal unit of geological time. The Anthropocene has no precise start date, but based on atmospheric evidence may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution (late 18th century). Or it can be linked to earlier events such as the rise of agriculture, relative to growing human influence on land use, ecosystems, biodiversity and See also species extinctions, which may have begun as early as 14,000 to 15,000 years before present, based on lithospheric evidence; this would be closely synchronous with the current term, Holocene. (Wikipedia)

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. The practice, conscious or otherwise, of regarding the existence and/or concerns of human beings as the central fact of the universe. Compare Ascent, Creationism, Teleology. Contrast biocentrism. (MAK, Wikipedia glossary)

Archetype Platonic forms or Ideas, which in Neoplatonic emanationism became one of the intermediate stages between the absolute reality and the material world. In the late 18th and 19th centuries the concept of an ideal primitive plan ("Bauplan") on which organisms, such as plants or vertebrates, are based became a central theme in German Idealism and Naturphilosophie. Called by Richard Owen the "primal pattern" and "divine idea." See also Idealism. (modified from M. W. Strickberger).



fields that contributed to the birth of cognitive science

Fields that contributed to the birth of cognitive science.

Concept adapted from a figure presented in Miller, George A (2003). "The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective". TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences 7.

Compiled by Wikimedia user Beao from works by AJ Ashton, verdy_p, NASA, jossi, Gdh, Fibonacci, Mysid, Bilboq and Aaron Rotenberg.

Cognition mental processes involved in the gathering, organization, and use of knowledge, including such aspects as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgement. The term refers to any mental "behaviors" where the underlying characteristics are abstract in nature and involve insight, expectancy, complex rule use, imagery, use of symbols, belief, intentionality, problem-solving, and so forth. (PBS evolution Glossary)

Cognitive science interdisciplinary scientific study of minds as information processors. It includes research on how information is processed (in faculties such as perception, language, reasoning, and emotion), represented, and transformed in a (human or other animal) nervous system or machine (e.g., computer). Cognitive science consists of multiple research disciplines, including psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and education. It spans many levels of analysis, from low-level learning and decision mechanisms to high-level logic and planning; from neural circuitry to modular brain organization. The term was coined by Christopher Longuet-Higgins in his 1973 commentary on the Lighthill report, which concerned the then-current state of Artificial Intelligence research. (Wikipedia)

Conscious evolution New Age/Paradigm/Consciousness premise (although the terminology may differ) 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. Within this broad definition, theories of spiritual evolution are very diverse. They may be cosmological (describing existence at large), personal (describing the development of the individual), or both. They can be holistic (holding that higher realities emerge from and are not reducible to the lower), idealist (holding that reality is primarily mental or spiritual) or nondual (holding that there is no ultimate distinction between mental and physical reality). All of them can be considered to be teleological to a greater or lesser degree. Compare with great chain of being, integral theory, theistic evolution. 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. Equivalent to "mind" in the mind-body problem of philosophy. Reductionists and metaphysical naturalists tend to reduce consciousness to matter, idealists the reverse. Cognitive science studies the workings of consciousness in relation to neural functioning. The evolutionary philosopher Teilhard de Chardin used the term complexification to refer to the relation between "outer" complexity and "inner" consciousness. In physicalism (a form of materialistic monism), consciousness is identified with physical functions such as neural functioning, in dualism it is considered distinct from matter, and in some forms of Eastern Philosophy (another form of monism) it is identified with the absolute reality. (MAK)

Consilience as defined by Edward O. Wilson in his 1998 book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, an attempt to bridge the culture gap between the sciences and the humanities that was the subject of C. P. Snow's book on The Two Cultures. Wilson's assertion was that the sciences, humanities, and arts have a common goal: to give a purpose to understanding the details, to lend to all inquirers "a conviction, far deeper than a mere working proposition, that the world is orderly and can be explained by a small number of natural laws." Compare Integral Theory (a very different attempt to likewise create a unifying synthesis of human knowledge). (Wikipedia)

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 most pre-modern cosmologies posited a cyclic universe, in which the same stages occur in the same sequence again and again. The original inspiration here seems to have have been the movement of the celestial bodies and the regularity of the seasons. The only non-cyclic cosmologies were those associated with Semitic monotheistic religion, in which case the universe is created by God out of nothing six thousand years ago and will end soon in a day of judgment. Eastern philosophy today holds to a cyclic cosmology, Creationism to a religious linear cosmology, and Theosophy and the New Age combine cycles and evolution to give a spiral cosmology. (MAK)


Dualism the philosophical argument that mind or spirit and matter or physical reality are two fundamentally different and irreducible realities. The standard metaphysical form is substance dualism, argued by Descartes, who claimed that there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material. The mental does not extend in space, and material cannot think. Supernaturalism would constitute another form of dualism, as it places a supernatural reality consisting of God and other religious entities apart from the natural material world. Dualism is now out of favour with contemporary philosophy. Compare theistic evolution. Contrast monism and materialism. Emanation, emergence, and holism represent various alternatives to both Dualism and Monism. (MAK, Wikipedia glossary)


Eastern philosophy philosophical and spiritual (as opposed to religious) aspects of Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Taoism, and similar worldviews, which teach the goal of existence is the realisation of the absolute reality. Influential in Transpersonal Psychology and the New Age/New Paradigm, and Integral movements. Assumes endless cycles of existence but accommodates evolution without any problem. Tends to reject creationism and supernaturalism in favour of monism and emanation. See also individual evolution, conscious evolution (MAK)

Evolutionary psychology branch of psychology or evolutionary science that examines psychological traits — such as memory, perception, or language — from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations , that is, the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection. Evolutionary psychology has its historical roots in Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.[4] Darwin's theory inspired William James's functionalist approach to psychology. Along with W.D. Hamilton's (1964) seminal papers on inclusive fitness, E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology (1975) helped to establish evolutionary thinking in psychology and the other social sciences. (Wikipedia)


Fundamentalism the belief in a literal and inerrant interpretation of the Bible. The term developed in the American Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century, and that had its roots in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of that time. It was popularized by a series of books called The Fundamentals, published in 1910 and funded by Milton and Lyman Stewart, referring to those tenets considered fundamental to Christian belief. More recently it has come to be applied to religious extremism and literalist belief in religious scripture in any faith. Almost all Young Earth Creationists are of this persuasion, in contrast to Old Earth Creationists, Theistic Evolutionists, Deists, and Pantheists, who all adopt a more allegorical approach to the Bible. (MAK, Wikipedia)


God 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 theistic reality (may be personal or impersonal). Contrast with absolute reality, emanation, naturalism (MAK)


Holocene An epoch of the Quaternary period, spanning the time from the end of the Pleistocene (10,000 years ago) to the present. The most recent period of geologic history, which extends from 10,000 years ago to the present. It is named after the Greek words ὅλος (holos, entire) and καινός (kainos, new). See also Anthropocene. (MAK, USGS Paleontology glossary, Perseus Digital Library)

Human big-brained erect primate, who possesses a sophisticated culture and language (MAK)


Idealism in metaphysics (as opposed to colloquial or political definitions), the premise that the visible, material world of phenomena is secondary to fundamental non-material ideas, plans, archetypes, forms, or consciousness underlying the phenomena we observe in nature. It has been historically influential in 18th and 19th century pre- and non-Darwinian biological and evolutionary thought. See also German Idealism, Naturphilosophie, Teleology. (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). Compare with natural selection, conscious evolution, socio-cultural evolution. (MAK)

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)





Meme controversial concept proposed by Richard Dawkins. A meme is a "a unit of cultural inheritance, hypothesized as analogous to the particulate gene and as naturally selected by virtue of its 'phenotypic' consequences on its own survival and replication in the cultural environment." A meme can be an idea, skill, story, or custom, which is passed from one person to another by imitation or teaching. Some theorists argue that memes are the cultural equivalent of genes, and reproduce, mutate, are selected, and evolve in a similar way. The study of memes is called memetics. (Mavericks of the Mind; PBS evolution Glossary)

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).

Mind-Body problem branch of metaphysics that deals with the relationship between consciousness and the body, more specifically with the brain and nervous system. Generally, reductionistic, materialistic, and naturalistic worldviews and methodologies support the reduction of the former to the latter, citing developments in neuroscience, neurotheology and cognitive science, whereas idealistic and dualistic philosophies, tend to be sceptical in considering that scientific methodologies can deliver the complete picture. According to mind-body philosopher David Chalmers, such approaches do not deal with the "hard problem" of how objective physiological impulses are transformed into subjective qualia (elements of consciousness). (MAK)

Monism philosophical premise which holds that there is ultimately only type of substance in the universe, or alternatively that reality is ultimately unitary. Some of the (sometimes overlapping) variants include Nonduality, an eastern philosophy which says that reality is ineffable, and all that can be said is that it is not dualistic; Pantheism asserts that everything is God; phenomenalism, or mentalistic monism (and Idealism in part), which holds that only mind or spirit is real; Neutral monism, which holds that both the mental and the physical can be reduced to some sort of third substance, or energy; and Physicalism or materialism, which holds that only the physical is real, and that the mental or spiritual can be reduced to the physical. Contrast with dualism. (MAK, Wikipedia)


Neuroscience, Neurobiology a branch of cognitive science, scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally, neuroscience has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, physics, and psychology. The term neurobiology is usually used interchangeably with the term neuroscience, although the former refers specifically to the biology of the nervous system, whereas the latter refers to the entire science of the nervous system. See also, paleoneurobiology. (Wikipedia)

Neurotheology branch of Neuroscience, involves the study of correlations of neural phenomena with subjective experiences of spirituality and non-ordinary and mystical states of consciousness, and hypotheses to explain these phenomena. Proponents of neurotheology say there is a neurological and evolutionary basis for subjective experiences traditionally categorized as spiritual or religious. (Wikipedia).

New Age Describes a broad movement of late twentieth century and contemporary Western culture characterised by an individual eclectic approach to spiritual exploration. It has some attributes of a new, emerging religion but is currently a loose network of spiritual seekers, teachers, healers and other participants. The name "New Age" also refers to the market segment in which goods and services are sold to people in the movement. (Wikipedia). New Age teachings tend to reject both materialism and creationist literal religion on the other, and favour holism, non-religious intelligent design, pantheism, and spiritual evolution. New Paradigm refers to a somewhat more intellectual rigorous approach to these themes, drawing from transpersonal psychology, systems theory, and other fields, the term itself is based on an appropriation of Thomas Kuhn's paradigm theory. "New Paradigm" is rarely used nowadays. Another, more recent, term is New Consciousness. Despite the eastern elements, New Paradigm and New Consciousness are based on popularist science (holographic universe, Gaia theory, etc) that seeks justification in scientific naturalism. Have a friendly approach to Darwinian-derived evolutionary theory and empirical/positivist realism, rejecting only excessive reductionism and metaphysical naturalism. Considered pseudoscience by many scientists and sceptics. See also Universe Story, Integral Theory. (MAK)

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 νόος, noos, 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, Perseus Digital Library)


Omega point in Teilhard de Chardin's pantheistic evolutionary theology, the personal and transcendent state of maximum complexification, towards which the Earth is evolving, and associated or identified with Christ; the end of history, or of history as we know it. Enormously influential (generally second or third hand) on the new age movement. Similar to Sri Aurobindo's independently arrived at but more radical concept of Supramental transformation, and the Transhumanist Singularity (perhaps direct or indirect influence re the history of ideas). The mathematical physicist and cosmologist Frank J. Tipler developed a materialistic "hard science" version of Teilhard's Omega Point. (MAK)


Paleoanthropology the study of fossil hominids, especially human ancestors.

Paleoneurology branch of neurology concerned with the study of the evolution of the brain by using fossil evidence, such as brain endocasts of extinct vertebrates. This little known field has been pioneered by American biopsychologist Harry J. Jerison. Link

Platonism the school of philosophy founded by Plato. Often used to refer to Platonic idealism, the belief that the entities of the phenomenal world are imperfect reflections of an ideal truth. In metaphysics sometimes used to mean the claim that universals exist independent of particulars. Quite distinct from Aristotelianism, with its more naturalist approach. The synthesis of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism culminated in Neoplatonism was a school of philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century c.e. under Plotinus. The school was characterized by a systematization of Platonic metaphysics along with a pursuit of mystical union with the divine. Platonic, Aristotelian, and Neoplatonic ideas led to the Great Chain of Being, and ideas like teleology (Aristotle) and archetypes (Plato, Neoplatonism), which remained influential well into the 19th century. (MAK, Wikipedia glossary)

Plio-Pleistocene informal period of time encompassing the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs, but not the Holocene. Important in considering late Cenozoic climate change, the evolution of hominids and mammals in general. (MAK)




Sixth extinction the on-going anthropogenic mass-extinction, so called because it is comparable in impact to the preceding big five. The term was coined or popularised by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin in their 1996 book The Sixth Extinction: Patterns of Life and the Future of Humankind. In his book The Future of Life (2002), E.O. Wilson calculated that, if the current rate of human disruption of the biosphere continues, one-half of Earth's higher lifeforms will be extinct by 2100. (MAK, Wikipedia)

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)

Sociobiology scientific study based on the assumption that social behavior has resulted from and attempts to explain and examine social behavior within an evolutionary that context. Often considered a branch of biology and sociology, it also draws from ethology, anthropology, evolution, zoology, archaeology, population genetics, and other disciplines. Sociobiology investigates social behaviors, such as mating patterns, territorial fights, pack hunting, and the hive society of social insects. It argues that just as selection pressure led to animals evolving useful ways of interacting with the natural environment, it led to the genetic evolution of advantageous social behavior. Popularised in 1975 with the publication of Edward O. Wilson's book, Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. The new field quickly became the subject of heated controversy. Criticism, most notably made by Richard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould, centered on sociobiology's contention that genes play an ultimate role in human behavior and that traits such as aggressiveness can be explained by biology rather than a person's social environment. Sociobiologists generally responded to the criticism by pointing to the complex relationship between nature and nurture. In response to some of the potentially fractious implications sociobiology had on human biodiversity, anthropologist John Tooby and psychologist Leda Cosmides founded the field evolutionary psychology. (Wikipedia)

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)

Spirituality broadly defined, the inner impetus to transcendence, and appreciation of a greater reality beyond the individual ego. Religionists and idealists associate it with transcendent reality, whereas naturalists may seek to explain it in terms of Neurotheology and Neuroscience. Spirituality can also be distinguished from normative (institutional) religion; for example Einstein's pantheistic "sense of wonder" at the universe is an example of spirituality that is not religious (because he rejects a supernatural God) but naturalistic. In contrast to some (more literalist) forms of religion, a strong sense of spirituality does not require a rejection of empirical science, as their is nothing in the findings or methods of science or naturalistic evolution that conflicts with spirituality. (MAK)

Supernatural, Supra-physical over and apart from the natural or physical world, and hence tending to imply a dualistic worldview. May refer to theological ideas (God, souls, etc) or pop-culture (vampires, ghosts etc). Generally tends to imply incomprehensibility, fantastical elements, and total non-connection with the material world. For all these reasons an alternative and less religious and/or sensationalist term like Supra-physical would be preferable. This is the premise, advocated by most mystical, esotericist, and occult philosophies and teachings, that there exist realities that cannot be defined in terms of, or reduced to material or natural causes. In contrast to the "supernatural", with its fantastical and illogical aspects, supra-physical realities are considered to relate to the external or material universe in a knowable and meaningful way, the whole forming a unified cosmology. See also archetype, emanation, idealism, teleology. Some metaphysical philosophies, such as Theosophy, have attempted to integrate supra-physical and evolutionary ideas. (MAK)


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)

Theism Refers to the position of belief in a God or gods. Some more  narrowly-construed versions of belief in God include: monotheism (belief in one God), polytheism (belief in many gods), pantheism (belief that God is everything), and deism (belief in a God which created the universe, but does not "interfere" with it).  contrast with atheism, agnosticism (W. R. Elsberry via W.J. Hudson, modified)

Theosophy 19th century occult philosophy and cosmology which describes planes of being and the evolution of consciousness, and attempted to integrate these with Victorian evolutionism and popular Darwinism and deep time (via a convergence of 19th century geology and the cyclic cosmology of eastern philosophy. Advocates an emanationist worldview, rejects creationism and the idea of a supernatural God. Hugely influential on the modern New Age movement. Some theosophists have attempted to reconcile the theory of root races and lost continents with 20th century scientific discoveries of earth evolution and continental drift (so, for example, Lemuria becomes Gondwana). (MAK)

Transpersonal Psychology branch of psychology concerned with higher states of consciousness (i.e. beyond the personal ego). Very influential on the New Paradigm movement of the 1980s. (MAK)

Two Cultures (C.P. Snow) The Two Cultures is the title of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow. Its thesis was that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. As a trained scientist who was also a successful novelist, Snow was well placed to articulate this thesis. (from Wikipedia). In my studies of evolutionary science on the one hand, and philosophy and metaphysics on the other, it seems to me that these two fields (and sciences and humanities in general) represent not just two radically different forms of academic study and methodology, but totally different way of thinking and interpreting and understanding the world. Science is concerned with facts, humanities with meaning. Two very different attempts to integrate the two in a larger framework are Consilience and Integral Theory. (MAK)



Vitalism metaphysical doctrine common to most cultures that explains life by means of a non-material but organisational vital principle, such as ch'i, prana, entelechy, élan vital, etc. In classical times, physicians and healers such as Galen used this to explain the functioning of the human body. Dualists associate the vital principle with the "soul", whereas emanationist, occultist, and theosophical metaphysics tends to postulate a series of gross and subtle bodies, levels of self, or "vehicles of consciousness", in which case the vital principle is the body or self level immediately beyond or behind the physical, or intermediate between body and soul, or body and mind. Vitalism was influential and respected alternative to mechanism during the 18th and 19th centuries, and can also be found in the popular "animal magnetism" theories of Franz Anton Mesmer. It was also important in the thinking of later teleologists such as Hans Driesch, where it was associated with anti-Darwinism; as Darwin's theory of evolution denied the existence of any cosmic teleology, the vitalists saw Darwin's theories as too materialistic to explain the complexity of life. The demise of vitalism was brought about by increasing advances in empirical science and evolutionary and developmental theories. However, the vitalistic worldview reappeared with New Age/New Paradigm/New Consciousness movement with its emphasis on new approaches such as holism , organicism, and emergent evolution, and the rising popularity of alternative or complementary medicine. Compare with Idealism. (Wikipedia)





A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

contact us

last modified MAK111005, RFVS111109

Creative Commons License
Unless otherwise noted,
the material on this page may be used under the terms of a
Creative Commons License.