Complex societies gave birth to big gods - CSH Vienna

Complex societies gave birth to big gods


Mar 20, 2019

CSH Press Release

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 


Event

Brainhack Vienna


Dec 11, 2019Dec 13, 2019

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by David B. Saakian: “Solving the evolutionary dynamics on fluctuating Landscapes”


Nov 18, 2019 | 11:0012:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Visitor

Helena Miton, CEU, SFI


Oct 24, 2019

Event

CSH Talk by Helena Miton: “Explaning the spread and persistence of maladaptive medical beliefs”


Oct 24, 2019 | 15:0016:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Press

Cooperative creativity experiment reveals most efficient team structures


Phys.org, Oct 15, 2019

Press

Forscher ermittelten optimale Zusammensetzung für konstruktive Teams


APA Science, Oct 14, 2019

Press

Statins May Affect Your Bone Health


New York Times, Oct 8, 2019

News

Oct 6, 2019

Out now: Sustainability colloquium | The Videos

Press

Czy leki na cholesterol powodują osteoporozę? [Polish]


wprost, Oct 4, 2019

News

Sep 30, 2019

Do statins increase osteoporosis risk?

News

Jun 11, 2019

Predicting success in show biz

News

Jun 5, 2019

13 Reasons Why | watching suicide in TV can be contagious

Event

Brainhack Vienna


Dec 11, 2019Dec 13, 2019

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by David B. Saakian: “Solving the evolutionary dynamics on fluctuating Landscapes”


Nov 18, 2019 | 11:0012:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Visitor

Helena Miton, CEU, SFI


Oct 24, 2019

Event

CSH Talk by Helena Miton: “Explaning the spread and persistence of maladaptive medical beliefs”


Oct 24, 2019 | 15:0016:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Press

Cooperative creativity experiment reveals most efficient team structures


Phys.org, Oct 15, 2019

Press

Forscher ermittelten optimale Zusammensetzung für konstruktive Teams


APA Science, Oct 14, 2019

Press

Statins May Affect Your Bone Health


New York Times, Oct 8, 2019

News

Oct 6, 2019

Out now: Sustainability colloquium | The Videos

Press

Czy leki na cholesterol powodują osteoporozę? [Polish]


wprost, Oct 4, 2019

News

Sep 30, 2019

Do statins increase osteoporosis risk?

News

Jun 11, 2019

Predicting success in show biz

News

Jun 5, 2019

13 Reasons Why | watching suicide in TV can be contagious

News

Oct 6, 2019

Out now: Sustainability colloquium | The Videos

News

Sep 30, 2019

Do statins increase osteoporosis risk?

News

Jun 11, 2019

Predicting success in show biz

News

Jun 5, 2019

13 Reasons Why | watching suicide in TV can be contagious

News

May 29, 2019

D4Dairy annual meeting at the Hub

News

Apr 11, 2019

Shocking Economics!

News

Apr 3, 2019

In need of ‘complexity economics’

News

Mar 20, 2019

Complex societies gave birth to big gods

News

Feb 6, 2019

New music styles: how the challenger calls the tune

News

Jan 30, 2019

Garcia, Bail, Rahwan, Couzin: Check out the videos!

News

Jan 1, 2019

Our new “Visions for Complexity”

News

Dec 4, 2018

A sad day for science: CEU forced out of Hungary

Event

Brainhack Vienna


Dec 11, 2019Dec 13, 2019

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by David B. Saakian: “Solving the evolutionary dynamics on fluctuating Landscapes”


Nov 18, 2019 | 11:0012:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Visitor

Helena Miton, CEU, SFI


Oct 24, 2019

Event

CSH Talk by Helena Miton: “Explaning the spread and persistence of maladaptive medical beliefs”


Oct 24, 2019 | 15:0016:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Workshop: “Modeling Neolithic Crises”


Oct 17, 2019 | 9:30Oct 18, 2019 | 17:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Célian Colon: “Coupling transport and supply chains to analyze the impact of disasters – an application to the United Republic of Tanzania”


Oct 17, 2019 | 15:0016:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by William Schueller: “Active control of complexity growth in a multi-agent model”


Oct 18, 2019 | 15:0016:00

Event

CSH Planning Workshop on the Historical Dynamics of Social Norms and Sentiments Underlying Cooperation


Oct 21, 2019 | 9:30Oct 22, 2019 | 16:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Talk

“Embracing Opportunities of Livestock Big Data Integration with Privacy Constraints”


Franz Papst.

Oct 25, 2019

University of Deusto

Event

CSH Talk by Jim Bennett: “A model of agrarian state–nomadic confederation interaction in the Old World”


Oct 16, 2019 | 15:0016:00

Visitor

Simon Levin, Princeton University


Oct 13, 2019Oct 16, 2019

Visitor

Saadi Lahlou, London School of Economics


Oct 13, 2019Oct 15, 2019

Press

Cooperative creativity experiment reveals most efficient team structures


Phys.org, Oct 15, 2019

Press

Forscher ermittelten optimale Zusammensetzung für konstruktive Teams


APA Science, Oct 14, 2019

Press

Statins May Affect Your Bone Health


New York Times, Oct 8, 2019

Press

Czy leki na cholesterol powodują osteoporozę? [Polish]


wprost, Oct 4, 2019

Press

El fin de una era: qué pasará cuando los ‘likes’ desaparezcan [Spanish]


El País, Oct 3, 2019

Press

Recomendamos: El fin de una era: qué pasará cuando los ‘likes’ desaparezcan [Spanish]


etcétera, Oct 3, 2019

Press

Vamos deixar de ver “likes”. E agora? [Portuguese]


JN, Oct 3, 2019

Press

À forte dose, les statines augmentent le risque d’ostéoporose [French]


Pourquoi docteur?, Oct 3, 2019

Press

Die Zukunft des Regierens: Politik in der Computersimulation


Der Standard, Oct 2, 2019

Press

MERYNS Sprechzimmer: Online oder Ordination?


ORF III, Oct 2, 2019

Press

Dr. med. Tele Medizin: Wird Gesundheit digital?


ORF III, Oct 2, 2019

Press

STATINES : A forte dose, c’est le risque d’ostéoporose? [French]


Santé Log, Oct 1, 2019