How everything has begun, we must leave to the "big bang" or similar myths.

For all later points of application of evolution one can always already presuppose system/environment differences and thus that multiplication mechanism which only allows systems with operations to develop which can adjust to a mixture of phenomena which they can construct as disorder or order, as coincidence or necessity, as expectable or irritating, and thus also as variation which triggers a selection pressure.

The theory of self-referential evolution thus no longer transfers the "reason" of the events into the beginning (arche, principium). It replaces this traditional way of explanation by a difference-theoretical one, namely by a specification of the difference of evolutionary functions and a Localization of the particular conditions of their divergence in the empirical reality of evolving systems as precisely as possible. In this way, evolutionary theory generates a practically endless research program for historical investigations.

If evolution is not a process and if it presupposes a circular relation of its function, the theory first abstracts from Time.

However, it can be doubted just as little that evolution takes place in time. This does not only mean that a structural change can be dated – by reference to more or less long periods of time.

It does not only take place in time, but also makes use of historical situations which have resulted from evolution itself and may be unique or have a certain typicality which makes a multiple emergence of evolutionary achievements – the eye, the will etc. – probable.

Such situations provide opportunities on the one hand and constraints on the other; they offer selection opportunities, but their reproduction is possible only under certain conditions.

We will come back to this under terms like Preadaptive Advances, evolutionary achievements, history. For the moment, it is only to be noted that evolutionary theory is not based on a linear concept of time, even though it adheres to time measurements for dating purposes, but that the time in which structural innovations occur takes the form of a historically unique present in which a combination of opportunities and constraints is available; and as a combination, because there are no opportunities without constraints, just as there is no variation and selection without stability.

Evolution, in other words, is possible only in empirical concretion, although the theory of evolution cannot causally explain what then appears as changed and thus as new.

The same insight can also be gained from the point of view of system theory. In view of the system bases of all evolution, in view of the indissoluble connection of elementary operations, structure formations and operative closure of the system delimiting itself to the outside, differentiation of the evolutionary functions cannot mean that it would come to a causal separation.

What is meant, however, is that the functions of variation, selection and re-stabilization cannot be coordinated by the evolving system, cannot be coordinated with each other; because that would mean that from the beginning only so much is varied as can be seligated as a contribution to the "system maintenance".

Renunciation of this kind of purposeful coordination means that, seen from the point of view of the system, it is coincidence when variations lead to positive or negative selections, and that it is still coincidence whether and how these selections, which use their own criteria, can be stabilized in the system.

By "chance" it is then also said that the evolving system is uncontrollably sensitive to the environment at these inner boundaries. Here accidentally existing, possibly temporary environmental conditions can have an effect, and in this way the system, without planning this, can use opportunities to be able to carry out structural changes in a communicatively plausible way, which would be impossible in other historical situations.

Thus, the introduction of writing gives new possibilities and new problems to the already existing difference of competent and incompetent roles in dealing with sacred things – for example, that of consolidating a tradition held to be sacred. Thus, it may have made a difference to the development of Talmudic Judaism and its handling of problems of interpretation of sacred texts that the political unity of the Jewish people had been destroyed, and thus no discriminatory political support and stabilization of theological controversies could be expected, as in the case of Islam and Christianity. Thus, the regional and political segmentation of Europe (i.e., the failure of the idea of empire due to the resistance of the church in the 11/12th century) produces an abundance of differential progress in individual regions, which then act like experiments with progress, with which or against which other regions can determine their path toward functional differentiation. Thus, in France there is a nation-state very early on, but an art-theoretical literature does not emerge until after the establishment of the Academie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture (1648) – and both the literature and the academy follow Italian models.

These considerations also go beyond the classical theoretical distinction between endogenously and exogenously induced evolution, which in any case cannot be maintained in terms of systems theory. It must be replaced by a more complex theory, namely by the hypothesis that an evolving system with differentiation of evolutionary functions will absorb more external influences, react more to historical situations and therefore evolve faster (but always: purely internally).


Luhmann, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, 500–502

If it is true that evolution comes about by a pulling apart (spread out) of its functions (by realization of its form), one can conclude from this that the operationally necessary chance, if one may say so, gets a higher degree of Organization in the course of evolution.

It becomes more and more probable that the improbable, chance, occurs, because the highly complex structures of evolved systems offer more possibilities of deviation and also more possibilities of coping with deviations. It follows then that evolution begins to run faster in the course of evolution.

Of course, this cannot mean that in the course of evolution all systems or all types of systems begin to change more and more rapidly. Already the lizards would protest. So it can only be a question that with advanced evolution there are also morphogenetic transformations which run faster and at the same time produce forms which can hold out a higher change speed in the environment and in the system itself.

At least at this point, evolutionary theory is dependent on a close research alliance with systems theory. The system theory would say: the greater the system complexity (achieved by evolution), the more probable are innovations.

The necessity of the variation/selection/restabilization form corresponds with the necessity of the system/environment form. Both necessities place chance in such a way that the determinacy of variation says nothing for the determinacy of selection and the determinacy of environment says nothing for the determinacy of the system.

Evolving systems, in other words, are structurally determined systems and, in higher forms of Organization, are then systems that can build an internal representation for externally induced contingencies. We had spoken of "Irritation".


Luhmann, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, 503