Tyler Volk


On his book Quarks to Culture: How We Came to Be

Cover Interview of July 12, 2017

In a nutshell

Quarks to Culture involves a new, big picture perspective of the universe. Now, by universe I do not mean the astronomical cosmos that the word usually refers to. I mean our lived universe. This includes living cells. It includes the works of all cultures. We might call this expanded universe the universe of all things.

What kind of new perspective? If we go down in scale into the human body and look at the kinds of systems we know about, it is like going back in time. Our bodily cells as living cells, as members of a type of system, came into existence well before bodies, such as we animals who are made of trillions of cells. Taking this time machine further downward in scale, we find the kind of thing known as molecules in this universe of all things. Molecules as a kind of fundamental thing came into existence, indeed, had to come into existence, before living cells.

So, in the questions I asked that led to this work, I wanted to find out if I could discover fundamental levels of kinds of things. I wanted to discern these levels with a consistent logic. I return here to the time machine just noted as one goes back downward inward in scale. Might one start with the simplest entities known to science and build up in a logical sequence from small and simple to large and complex? The logic involves a recurring pattern in time, in which prior existing things combined and integrated into larger things. At each level of larger things, the pattern or process repeated: those larger things now became the prior existing smaller things that combined and integrated into the next level of larger things.

When one follows this logic, as I hope to have done, or at least proposed, twelve fundamental levels emerge: Level 1 Fundamental particles; Level 2 Nucleons; Level 3 Atomic nuclei; Level 4 Atoms; Level 5 Molecules; Level 6 Prokaryotic cells; Level 7 Eukaryotic cells; Level 8 Multicellular organisms; Level 9 Animal social groups; Level 10 Cultural webs of “we”; Level 11 Agrovillages; Level 12 Geopolitical states.

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There is more. Each level contains things that are fundamentally new, because innovations in the relations of the things at each level were necessary to create the things at the next level, at least in our universe of things. This remarkable and special sequence I call the grand sequence.

I have written the book so that readers are walked through the essential, best currently known science and scholarship of the things at each level, the innovative relations, and how those new things and relations led to each subsequent level. That walk takes place in part two of the book, following the general theory of the logic and the quest put forth in part one. Finally, in part three comes what I see as a very exciting part of the book. In part three I treat the levels as a set of phenomena in an attempt at a universal field of scholarship and ask about commonalities or groupings of families within the levels. I will say a bit more about this below.