Four phases of human history
Image Courtesy Rob Cross – June 2019
This article is one of a series addressing globalization. Human history is discussed as four phases of progressively increasing social organisation (Natura, Agraria, Industria, Informatia) based on the form of energy used to drive social activity. Later articles give a brief account of the major world civilizations arising out of highly developed social organisation.
Other characteristics of this phase included: a rapid expansion in global population from 500 million to 2.5 billion, prompting increased urbanization with cities of up to 10 million inhabitants, especially in the industrialized world; increases in knowledge aided by improved communication through the printed word; also widening of commerce and industry aided by new science and technology; the introduction of transport systems based on steam, oil and electricity; spread of democratic institutions; increasing globalization, mostly of trade, much of this supported by the new use of fossil fuels and heavy machinery.
This was a period of critical examination of hierarchical political institutions founded on religious dogma, and social distinctions based on race, religion, social class, education, property, wealth, and gender.
Environmentally the appropriation of wild nature continued with the appropriation of arable land across the world to feed the growing population, and the release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels greatly accelerated the rate of human-induced climate change.
Industria is best understood in the context of the other three major long-term phases of human history.
Four phases of human history
History, when considered over the long term, reveals trends and features that are not apparent over shorter time-scales. Among those features that come into focus are the drivers of cultural evolution – those general social characteristics that offer some long term social benefit or advantage (cultural adaptations) and which therefore tend to persist.
The full span of human history may be divided into four phases based on the degree of social organization and complexity as constrained by their method of energy capture and use. New forms of social complexity arose as new and more concentrated forms of energy were discovered and existing energy sources were used more efficiently.
The simple societies of Natura were powered by human muscle fed a diet of wild plants and hunted animals. The settled communities of Agraria that followed were powered by the muscles of both humans and domesticated animals with a diet consisting mostly of cereal grains and the meat of domesticated animals. During Industria more people lived in towns and cities their muscle energy based on a similar diet to before but with social energy supplemented by that of the fossil fuels coal, oil and gas which, when combined with new technology like heavy machinery, greatly increased the efficiency of construction, transport, communication, manufacturing and therefore trade. During Industria there was a massive increase in the quantity and rate of social activity.
Each phase has requiring the governance of larger and more interconnected social groups with more complex and new (often competing) social, economic and environmental demands.
Our present phase, Informatia, has full global interconnection and is now resolving issues of global governance, one of these being the gradual replacement of fossil fuel energy with energy from renewable sources. Other concerns include the economic demand on natural resources by the growing human population, global pandemics, the problems surrounding human migration and the consequences of rapid advances in electronic technology.
This four-phase account of human history is an adaptation of the work of historian Ian Morris (see History in 10,000 words).
HUMAN ENERGY USE
Daily food needs - 1500-2000
BIOLOGICAL + SOCIAL ENERGY
Natura - 5000-10,000
Agraria - 10,000-30,000
Industria - 200-230,000
Informatia - 200,000 +