Home » Uncategorized » Is there a biological reason for the rise and fall of civilizations?

Is there a biological reason for the rise and fall of civilizations?

This is an intensely interesting topic for me. I’ve been wondering about this for years, but I haven’t been able to locate how to approach it: What underlies the more obvious motives for constructive and destructive societal trends? The obvious characteristics don’t seem to explain enough. I’ve been hearing about r/K selection theory, and I find that compelling. Penman expands on that to try to explain the biological origins of civilizing behavior, and its opposite, which is destructive.

This is a discussion between Stefan Molyneux and Dr. Penman on this topic from July 2015.

The gist of what undergirds r/K theory, and Penman’s idea of “biohistory,” is a category of action in molecular biology called epigenetics. It’s the idea that your genetic machinery can change its behavior in response to environmental factors. Unlike the popular notion of this, it doesn’t mean that your DNA literally changes its chemical makeup, rearranging genes in healthy and unhealthy ways. What epigenetics looks at is that the cells in your body, responding to chemical signals that your body generates in response to stimuli, can dynamically turn certain genes “on” and “off,” by adding and removing what have been called “genetic markets” to your genetic code. This has physiological effects. What’s most interesting to people like Penman (and myself) is the idea that it can also have psychological effects, changing how we see our relationship to the world around us, and our expectations of it. Not much of the cause and effect of this is clear in my head yet. Not much of that has been explained. Even so, at least with r/K theory, it seems to have a lot of explanatory power in showing what’s been going on with our politics.

I didn’t find Penman’s site (linked above) that edifying, but I thought I’d reference it, since that’s where this material comes from. It links to a book, “Biohistory,” that I’m currently reading.

I thought from listening to the discussion with Molyneux that this concept is not “fully baked” yet. My impression was that Penman made what sounded like contradictory statements. I’ve noticed that can happen when someone is explaining something, but doesn’t give the background for it, because they absent-mindedly assume the audience has it. After some exploration, one can understand there is no contradiction. I’ll just reserve judgment on this for now.

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