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/
The ‘Axial Age’ generally refers to a historical period within the first century BCE during which a cluster of changes in cultural traditions, most notably the emergence of current world religions and moralizing philosophies (Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam), are said to have occurred in some of the relatively complex social formations in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Near East, and South and East Asia. Unfortunately, many questions remain unanswered as different scholars utilize different material to approach the topic. Indeed, it is not quite clear what exactly the 'Axial Age' even is. Seshat: Global History Databank is currently involved in a project trying to untangle these issues, testing systematically the different theories that have been offered about how/why Axial societies developed when and where they did.
The Seshat team is putting together a workshop, Testing the Axial Age, to be held in Oxford January 26-27, 2017. We will bring together some of the world's leading experts on Axial Age societies, religious and cultural history, and the history of social equality. Together, we will discuss Seshat's work testing the various predictions of Axial Age scholarship against the empirical evidence and to review our collection of structured historical data from these Axial societies.
Tue13Jun2017Wed14Jun2017Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse
Why do institutions (laws, rules, sanctions, customs, and norms) in a given human society emerge, change, and disappear? Explaining institutional change has been a major theoretical and empirical challenge. A major obstacle facing explanations proposed by social scientists and historians is the peculiarities of the historical context. Historians tend to address this challenge by focusing on descriptions of what happened and emphasizing explanations that are contingent on the specific historical circumstances in which institutions evolve. Economists, other social scientists, and cultural evolutionists, on the other hand, tend to “generalize” and seek explanations that apply beyond the specific context of study. The tension between particular circumstances and general principles has not been resolved, with different scholars disagreeing as to the extent of permissible and empirically founded generalizations. Moreover, general principles in history are often as not as general as they may appear at first sight and are also bounded by the peculiarities of the data and the context.