Complex societies gave birth to big gods


Mar 20, 2019

Complex societies gave birth to big gods—not the other way around

 

Big data analyses suggest that moralizing gods are rather the product than the drivers of social complexity.

 

An international research team, including a member of the Complexity Science Hub Vienna, investigated the role of “big gods” in the rise of complex large-scale societies. Big gods are defined as moralizing deities who punish ethical transgressions. Contrary to prevailing theories, the team found that beliefs in big gods are a consequence, not a cause, of the evolution of complex societies. The results are published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

 

For their statistical analyses the researchers used the Seshat: Global History Databank, the most comprehensive, and constantly growing collection of historical and prehistorical data. Currently Seshat contains about 300,000 records on social complexity, religion, and other characteristics of 500 past societies, spanning 10,000 years of human history.

 

“It has been a debate for centuries why humans, unlike other animals, cooperate in large groups of genetically unrelated individuals,” says Seshat director and co-author Peter Turchin from the University of Connecticut and the Complexity Science Hub Vienna. Factors such as agriculture, warfare, or religion have been proposed as main driving forces.

 

One prominent theory, the big or moralizing gods hypothesis, assumes that religious beliefs were key. According to this theory people are more likely to cooperate fairly if they believe in gods who will punish them if they don’t. “To our surprise, our data strongly contradict this hypothesis,” says lead author Harvey Whitehouse. “In almost every world region for which we have data, moralizing gods tended to follow, not precede, increases in social complexity.” Even more so, standardized rituals tended on average to appear hundreds of years before gods who cared about human morality.

 

Such rituals create a collective identity and feelings of belonging that act as social glue, making people to behave more cooperatively. “Our results suggest that collective identities are more important to facilitate cooperation in societies than religious beliefs,” says Harvey Whitehouse.

 

 

Big data: a new approach to social theories

 

Until recently it has been impossible to distinguish between cause and effect in social theories and history, as standardized quantitative data from throughout world history were missing. To address this problem, data and social scientist Peter Turchin, together with Harvey Whitehouse and Pieter François from the University of Oxford, founded Seshat in 2011. The multidisciplinary project integrates the expertise of historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, social scientists as well as data scientists into a state-of-the-art, open-access database. Dozens of experts throughout the world helped to assemble detailed data on social complexity and religious beliefs and practices from hundreds of independent political units (“polities”), beginning with Neolithic Anatolians (today Turkey) in 9600 BCE.

 

CSH Press Release

 

Find here a more elaborate piece about the study by it’s authors from “The Conversation”.

The circles are coloured by type of moralizing gods.
Locations of the 30 sampled regions on the world map, labelled according to precolonial evidence of moralizing gods. Source: "Seshat: Global History Databank" | Nature

The complexity of a society can be estimated by social characteristics such as population, territory, and sophistication of government institutions and information systems. Religious data include the presence of beliefs in supernatural enforcement of reciprocity, fairness, and loyalty, and the frequency and standardization of religious rituals.

 

Seshat allows researchers to analyze hundreds of variables relating to social complexity, religion, warfare, agriculture and other features of human culture and society that vary over time and space,” explains Pieter François. “Now that the database is ready for analysis, we are poised to test a long list of theories about human history.” This includes competing theories of how and why humans evolved to cooperate in large-scale societies of millions and more people.

 

“Seshat is an unprecedented collaboration between anthropologists, historians, archaeologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and evolutionary scientists”, says Patrick Savage, corresponding author of the article. “It shows how big data can revolutionize the study of human history.”

 

 

###

 

Harvey Whitehouse, Pieter François, Patrick E. Savage, […] Peter Turchin. (2019) “Complex societies precede moralizing gods throughout world history”, Nature http://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1043-4

 

The published Seshat data are available at http://seshatdatabank.info/data

 


Press

Pandemie mit Ablaufdatum


ORF 2 | Mayrs Magazin - Wissen für alle, Oct 22, 2021

Press

Rise of the war machines: What drove the evolution of military technologies?


Big Think, Oct 21, 2021

Press

Rote Welle überrollt Österreich


oe24, Oct 21, 2021

Press

The horse bit and bridle kicked off ancient empires – a new giant dataset tracks the societal factors that drove military technology


The Conversation, Oct 21, 2021

News

Oct 20, 2021

What drove the invention of military technologies?

Publication

P. Turchin, et al.

Rise of the war machines: Charting the evolution of military technologies from the Neolithic to the Industrial Revolution

PLoS ONE (Oct 20) (2021)

News

Oct 20, 2021

How Bali could teach the world to manage its limited resources

Publication

T. Fink, L. Andersson, A. Hanbury

Detecting Multi Word Terms in patents the same way as entities

World Patent Information 67 (2021) 102078

Publication

J. Lasser, C. Matzhold, et al.

Integrating diverse data sources to predict disease risk in dairy cattle – a machine learning approach

Journal of Animal Science (2021) skab294

News

Oct 14, 2021

Vito, Niklas & Vittorio implement Kouzan_Expo in Rome

Publication

Y. Gandica, J. S. Lansing, et al.

Bali’s Ancient Rice Terraces: A Hamiltonian Approach

Physical Review Letters 127 (2021) 168301

News

Oct 12, 2021

Massive fraud in Duma elections 2021

Press

Pandemie mit Ablaufdatum


ORF 2 | Mayrs Magazin - Wissen für alle, Oct 22, 2021

Press

Rise of the war machines: What drove the evolution of military technologies?


Big Think, Oct 21, 2021

Press

Rote Welle überrollt Österreich


oe24, Oct 21, 2021

Press

The horse bit and bridle kicked off ancient empires – a new giant dataset tracks the societal factors that drove military technology


The Conversation, Oct 21, 2021

News

Oct 20, 2021

What drove the invention of military technologies?

Publication

P. Turchin, et al.

Rise of the war machines: Charting the evolution of military technologies from the Neolithic to the Industrial Revolution

PLoS ONE (Oct 20) (2021)

News

Oct 20, 2021

How Bali could teach the world to manage its limited resources

Publication

T. Fink, L. Andersson, A. Hanbury

Detecting Multi Word Terms in patents the same way as entities

World Patent Information 67 (2021) 102078

Publication

J. Lasser, C. Matzhold, et al.

Integrating diverse data sources to predict disease risk in dairy cattle – a machine learning approach

Journal of Animal Science (2021) skab294

News

Oct 14, 2021

Vito, Niklas & Vittorio implement Kouzan_Expo in Rome

Publication

Y. Gandica, J. S. Lansing, et al.

Bali’s Ancient Rice Terraces: A Hamiltonian Approach

Physical Review Letters 127 (2021) 168301

News

Oct 12, 2021

Massive fraud in Duma elections 2021

News

Oct 20, 2021

What drove the invention of military technologies?

News

Oct 20, 2021

How Bali could teach the world to manage its limited resources

News

Oct 14, 2021

Vito, Niklas & Vittorio implement Kouzan_Expo in Rome

News

Oct 12, 2021

Massive fraud in Duma elections 2021

News

Sep 28, 2021

Lockdown as live experiment reveals men-women behavioral differences

News

Sep 15, 2021

Impressions from this year's Hub Retreat

News

Sep 6, 2021

CSH in Albpach | The Great Green Transformation | Panel Discussion

News

Sep 1, 2021

Fariba Karimi nominated for Hedy Lamarr Award

News

Aug 2, 2021

The future of COVID-19 in Europe

News

Jul 29, 2021

CSH and Austrian Railways OeBB launch joint project

News

Jul 28, 2021

Disease network analysis shows: healthy overweight is possible

News

Jul 22, 2021

New CSH team leader Frank Neffke & the "science of cities"

Press

Pandemie mit Ablaufdatum


ORF 2 | Mayrs Magazin - Wissen für alle, Oct 22, 2021

Press

Rise of the war machines: What drove the evolution of military technologies?


Big Think, Oct 21, 2021

Press

Rote Welle überrollt Österreich


oe24, Oct 21, 2021

Press

The horse bit and bridle kicked off ancient empires – a new giant dataset tracks the societal factors that drove military technology


The Conversation, Oct 21, 2021

Press

Vierte Corona-Welle gewinnt an Schwung, Regierung will am Freitag beraten


Der Standard, Oct 22, 2021

Press

Warum die Zahlen massiv steigen


Neue Vorarlberger Tageszeitung, Oct 21, 2021

Press

Kriegsmaschinen in vorindustrieller Zeit


ORF Science, Oct 20, 2021

Press

Was die Militärtechnologie in vorindustrieller Zeit angetrieben hat


APA Science, Oct 20, 2021

Press

Infektionskurve zeigt steil nach oben


ORF Online, Oct 20, 2021

Press

How Bali could teach the world to manage its limited resources


phys.org, Oct 21, 2021

Press

Beginnt nun die befürchtete "Herbstwelle"?


Der Standard, Oct 20, 2021

Press

What drove the invention of military technologies?


phys.org, Oct 20, 2021

Publication

P. Turchin, et al.

Rise of the war machines: Charting the evolution of military technologies from the Neolithic to the Industrial Revolution

PLoS ONE (Oct 20) (2021)

Publication

T. Fink, L. Andersson, A. Hanbury

Detecting Multi Word Terms in patents the same way as entities

World Patent Information 67 (2021) 102078

Publication

J. Lasser, C. Matzhold, et al.

Integrating diverse data sources to predict disease risk in dairy cattle – a machine learning approach

Journal of Animal Science (2021) skab294

Publication

Y. Gandica, J. S. Lansing, et al.

Bali’s Ancient Rice Terraces: A Hamiltonian Approach

Physical Review Letters 127 (2021) 168301

Publication

X. Wang, M. Perc

Bilateral costly expulsions resolve the public goods dilemma

Proceedings of the Royal Society A 477 (2254) (2021)

Publication

E. Dervic, C. Deischinger, et al.

The Effect of Cardiovascular Comorbidities on Women Compared to Men: Longitudinal Retrospective Analysis

JMIR Cardio 5 (2) (2021) e28015

Publication

F. Battiston, et al.

The physics of higher-order interactions in complex systems

Nature Physics Vol 17 (2021) 1093–1098

Publication

U. Tirnakli, C. Tsallis, N. Ay

Approaching a large deviation theory for complex systems

Nonlinear Dynamics (2021)

Publication

C. Xu, X. Tang, et al.

Collective dynamics of heterogeneously and nonlinearly coupled phase oscillators

Physical Review Research 3 (2021) 043004

Publication

Y. Cheng, O. Saukh, L. Thiele

TIP-Air: Tracking Pollution Transfer for Accurate Air Quality Prediction

in: Proceedings of the 2021 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing and Proceedings of the 2021 ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers

Publication

T. Reisch, et al.

Behavioral gender differences are reinforced during the COVID-19 crisis

Scientific Reports 11 (2021) 19241

Publication

V. Galaz, M. Centeno, et al.

Artificial intelligence, systemic risks, and sustainability

Technology in Society 67 (2021) 101741