Fri05Aug2016Peter Turchin, NTU public lecture, Singapore
What are the social forces that hold together complex societies encompassing hundreds of millions of people? How did human ultrasociality – extensive cooperation among large numbers of unrelated individuals – evolve? The theory of cultural multilevel selection is a powerful theoretical framework for addressing these questions. I use this framework to investigate a major transition in human social evolution, from small-scale egalitarian groups to large-scale hierarchical societies such as states and empires. A key mathematical result in the theory is that large states should arise in regions where interpolity competition – warfare – is particularly intense, resulting in high probability of cultural trait extinction. In my talk I will describe how this theory fares when tested empirically against alternatives, using Seshat: Global History Databank.
Register for the event here.
Mon08Aug2016Peter Turchin, NUS talk, Singapore
I propose a model for the evolution of large states during the Ancient and Medieval eras, motivated by the ideas of Ibn Khaldun. Ibn Khaldun primarily focused on the interaction between pastoralists and farmers in the Maghreb (Northern Africa), but I extend his theory to Afroeurasia as a whole. The ‘mirror-empires’ model proposes that antagonistic interactions between steppe pastoralists and settled agriculturalists within, or next to the Old World’s arid belt (running from the Sahara desert to the Gobi desert) result in an autocatalytic process, which pressures both pastoralist and farming polities to scale up in polity size and military power. Thus, location on a steppe frontier should correlate with the frequency of imperial genesis. I survey extensive historical data that support this prediction.
Fri12Aug2016Peter Turchin, NTU Complexity Institute lecture, Singapore
A useful approach to thinking about why outbreaks of political violence (scaling up to revolutions and civil wars) occur is to separate the causes into structural conditions and triggering events. Specific triggers of political upheaval, such as self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor, are very hard, perhaps impossible to predict. On the other hand, structural pressures build up slowly and predictably, and are amenable to analysis and forecasting. Quantitative historical analysis reveals that complex human societies are affected by recurrent — and predictable — waves of political violence (P. Turchin and S. A. Nefedov. Secular Cycles. Princeton Univ. Press; 2009). The structural-demographic theory suggests that such seemingly disparate social indicators as stagnating or declining real wages, a growing gap between rich and poor, overproduction of young graduates with advanced degrees, and exploding public debt, are actually related to each other dynamically. Historically, such developments have served as leading indicators of looming political instability. In my presentation I will describe a dynamical model based on structural-demographic theory and illustrate it with data on economic, social, and political dynamics in nineteenth century America, including the most violent episode of political instability in the U.S. history, the American Civil War. I also discuss what this theory tells us about the U.S. today.
Wed17Aug2016Thu18Aug2016Nanyang Technological University, Complexity Institute
The primary objective of the workshop is to work with a small group of invited experts to examine the the topic of social complexity and the potential role of world religions in promoting prosocial behaviour by rulers and elites throughout the last four millennia, both globally and within the context of Southeast Asia.
Key topics include prosociality, religion, cooperation, Southeast Asia, social complexity, structural equality, history, Buddhism and Confucianism.
A public session will be held on Wednesday, August 17 from 9:00-14:20. More information here.
Mon29Aug2016Thomas Currie and Arkadiusz Marciniak, WAC-8 Kyoto, Doshisha University
Comparative archaeology is a vital way of understanding the processes that have shaped human
societies. However, our collective knowledge about past societies is often scattered over many sources. Furthermore, a variety of factors can hamper comparisons including, diverse theoretical approaches, varying methods of analysis, and regional differences in preservation and discovery. In this session we want to examine how we can overcome these issues. We will discuss the challenges of identifying suitable archaeological measures that are explicit, and broadly applicable. We believe this is best tackled through working collaboratively with researchers from a variety of disciplines, including expert archaeologists who are interested in placing their sites of study within a broader comparative framework. We will illustrate this approach by describing our current efforts to build a large, global-scale historical and archaeological database known as Seshat: Global History Databank, that is using the latest computer science technologies to collate, curate and organize information. We will discuss how we are assembling data on religions and rituals, agricultural productivity, and warfare in order to assess how these factors may have shaped the dynamics of change in social and political organization in societies in different regions of the world over the longue durée.
For more details see the WAC-8 Kyoto website: http://wac8.org/