1. Introduction

The central axiom of this article is that culture is a biological phenomenon - not a delusion or a by-product of brain size, but an integral feature of human ecology. Biological theories about human activity systems, if they cannot accommodate those cultural ecodynamics, are not fit for purpose. The term 'pro-social' is often used to describe animals that are born with an innate expectation that the world will contain communicative, sociable organisms from which they will need to learn complicated skills. Bees and ants, which seem to be born with their social skills hard-wired into their bodies, are not pro-social, but great apes, elephants, dogs and crows undoubtedly are.

Alongside this axiom we set a number of ideas from complex system theory. One of these is that evolutionary systems are equilibrium-seekers. The clouds of 'stuff' that became our solar system, for example, gradually converged into lumps to produce a quasi-evolutionary system in which lumps of stuff occasionally collided with each other, or were pounded by bodies flying in from beyond the solar system. Natural selection eliminated, shattered or relocated all the lumps that failed to keep out of the way. What remained was the stuff that had been able to hide from natural selection.

The 'stuff that could hide' was not distributed randomly in space and time - patterns had emerged that could be described in terms of planets, moons, asteroids, meteors, orbits, cycles and periods. The stuff inside the solar system was patterned and so too was the stuff from outside that occasionally entered it and left again. The external materials must have passed through similar selective mills as they crossed vast distances in space. The dynamic rapprochement between the materials inside our own solar system and the materials in its environment wrought patterns in both and, coincidentally, allowed planets and external objects to co-exist over an extended period of time.

The synergetic patterns that emerge within an evolutionary system invariably reflect processes going on in its environment and vice versa. The reflexive patterns we observe here and now are but one possibility in a vast, unbounded space of possibilities, each shaped by sequences of events and happenstance and by processes taking place outside the system at hand. System theorists often describe that possibility space in terms of attractive regions (attractors) and repulsive regions (repellers). There may also be 'basins of attraction' - regions close to a given attractor that funnel passing trajectories in.

It was briefly fashionable, in the 1980s, to write about 'chaos theory' but complex systems research is much more closely engaged with self-organising or 'self-writing', autopoietic systems than 80s popular science suggests (Bateson 1979; Maturana and Varela 1973). Much of the literature on autopoiesis is technically demanding, but at its heart is the idea that fitness has something to do with the ability to avoid natural selection by finding a stable attractor in which the dynamics and patterns manifest in every sub-system reflect patterns in the others. In physical systems, this synergetic fitness often has something to do with having the right physical properties or being in the right place at the right time, but in ecological and human activity systems, patterns of co-operation and selective kindness can sometimes produce surprising ways of being fit.