Old questions, new toolbox
Understanding complexity and collapse with Big Data and computational models
Over the past 10,000 years, human societies have evolved from small-scale egalitarian groups to complex, large-scale societies characterized by great differentials in wealth and power, extensive division of labor, and elaborate governance structures. There are many theories attempting to explain this major evolutionary transition. Which are correct?
Another challenge for researchers is that social complexity has not increased in a steady, gradual fashion. Instead, complex human societies—including our own—periodically experience social dysfunction and turbulence, which often results in state breakdown, political fragmentation, simplification of the economy, population declines, and loss of institutions and other accumulated cultural knowledge. Again, past thinkers and modern social scientists have put forward myriad theories explaining social collapse, but these theories have not yet been systematically tested with massive amounts of data.