"Evolution of social complexity": Peter Turchin's workshop résumé - CSH

“Evolution of social complexity”: Peter Turchin’s workshop résumé


Oct 11, 2017

Evolution and Devolution of Social Complexity: Why Do We Care?

 

By Peter Turchin

 

Over the past 10,000 years human societies evolved from “simple” – small egalitarian groups, integrated by face-to-face interactions – to “complex” – huge anonymous societies of millions, characterized by great differentials in wealth and power, extensive division of labor, elaborate governance structures, and sophisticated information systems. What were the evolutionary processes that brought about such an enormous increase in social scale and complexity?

 

We also need to understand why social forces that hold huge human societies together sometimes fail to do so. Complex societies collapsed on numerous occasions in the past, and may be at risk today. There are clear signs that even industrialized, wealthy, and democratic Western societies, that seemed to be immune to collapse until recently, are becoming less stable. Research on social complexity will bring understanding that is of direct value to our societies and human well-being.

 

On October 2-3, 2017, the Complexity Science Hub Vienna conducted a workshop on the evolution of social complexity. The workshop was organized by CSH external faculty member Peter Turchin. A diverse group of scholars, which included historians, archaeologists, evolutionary and computer scientists, and physicists considered the following questions: Can we measure Social Complexity? How many dimensions does it have? What were the evolutionary forces that explain the dramatic increase in Social Complexity over the past 10,000 years? And why do complex societies sometimes become unstable, and even collapse?

 

We need to know about the deep human past

 

One important point that several participants stressed is the need to study the deep human past. Social forces that bring about societal disintegration build up slowly, over many decades. A short-term view that focuses on only where we currently are, rather than on also where we came from, will not yield effective policies that will allow us to avoid the looming crisis. Furthermore, the tension between collective, more cooperative forms of governance, on one hand, and more autocratic, even despotic forms, on the other, is not new. It has been with us ever since the first centralized societies arose some 7.5 thousand years ago. We need to learn these lessons from the past. Similarly, evidence is accumulating that increasing inequality undermines social cooperation and societal stability, both in the past and today.

 

More generally, much research is currently addressing questions of environmental sustainability and of sustainable economic growth. But what about social sustainability? Social instability has a direct impact on human well-being, and collapse of complex societies can be catastrophic. In Europe, specifically, we see a number of worrying trends – the rise of populism, authoritarianism, and separatism — all suggesting that social cooperation is gradually unraveling and a disintegrative trend is setting in. The participants of the workshop think that a research program combining the quantitative methods of complexity science (including computational social science, nonlinear dynamical systems, and social network analysis) with “Big Data” methodologies that probe the deep human past will generate new and exciting insights that will allow us to understand how these negative trends can be reversed.

 

Challenges for our societies

 

There are two particular challenges to social sustainability that have become very important recently. One is the communication revolution that has dramatically changed how information is processed and disseminated. On one hand, this revolution has had many positive effects. For example, it has democratized social influence, since any individual or group can now reach large numbers of other individuals online. On the other hand, it enabled malevolent actors, including individuals, organizations, and states, to conduct “informational warfare” to nefarious ends.

 

The second challenge is also driven by technological evolution. As automation and robotization of production expand, the demand for human labor will begin falling below its supply (in fact, this may already be happening). This technological transition is not necessarily bad, unless it is mismanaged. Unfortunately, the triumph of neoliberal ideology in the United States, and deep inroads this ideology recently made into European elites, means that the chance this transition will be mismanaged is quite high. If it is left to free markets, then businesses are likely to continue replacing workers with machines, unemployment will grow, collective demand that drives economic growth will decline, and inequality will spike, followed by social instability and growing political violence.

 

These (and other trends that we did not mention here) are serious challenges to the sustainability of complex societies. As history shows, drastic social simplification nearly always imposes huge costs on societies in terms of human well-being. Research into the mechanisms and causes of evolution—and devolution—of complex societies is not only intellectually exciting, but also has direct benefits for our societies and human well-being.

 

 

(This workshop summary was first published on Peter Turchin’s Blog.)


Event

CSH Talk by Peter Turchin


Oct 04, 2018 | 15:0016:00

Event

CSH Talk by Markus Strauss


Dec 14, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Leonhard Horstmeyer


Dec 07, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Jan Korbel


Nov 30, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

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Künstliche Intelligenz: Kann eine Maschine moralisch handeln?


Der Standard Online, Sep 18, 2018

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Ö1 Digital Leben, Sep 11, 2018

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Machine Behaviour: Neues Forschungsfeld über Verhalten von Maschinen


APA Science, Sep 6, 2018

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Stilkunde mit Big Data


ORF Science, Aug 29, 2018

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Jul 30, 2018

“We need a revolution in modelling sustainability”

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Jul 20, 2018

“The science for a world of processes”

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Jul 19, 2018

“Reflect on the way we produce knowledge”

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Jul 16, 2018

Ob in Kunst oder Wissenschaft: Nutze deine Erfolgssträhne! [CSH Press Release]

Event

CSH Talk by Peter Turchin


Oct 04, 2018 | 15:0016:00

Event

CSH Talk by Markus Strauss


Dec 14, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Leonhard Horstmeyer


Dec 07, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Jan Korbel


Nov 30, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Press

Künstliche Intelligenz: Kann eine Maschine moralisch handeln?


Der Standard Online, Sep 18, 2018

Press

Wie ticken die Roboter? [offline]


Ö1 Digital Leben, Sep 11, 2018

Press

Machine Behaviour: Neues Forschungsfeld über Verhalten von Maschinen


APA Science, Sep 6, 2018

Press

Stilkunde mit Big Data


ORF Science, Aug 29, 2018

News

Jul 30, 2018

“We need a revolution in modelling sustainability”

News

Jul 20, 2018

“The science for a world of processes”

News

Jul 19, 2018

“Reflect on the way we produce knowledge”

News

Jul 16, 2018

Ob in Kunst oder Wissenschaft: Nutze deine Erfolgssträhne! [CSH Press Release]

News

Jul 30, 2018

“We need a revolution in modelling sustainability”

News

Jul 20, 2018

“The science for a world of processes”

News

Jul 19, 2018

“Reflect on the way we produce knowledge”

News

Jul 16, 2018

Ob in Kunst oder Wissenschaft: Nutze deine Erfolgssträhne! [CSH Press Release]

News

Jul 15, 2018

“Avoid centralized control in teams”

News

Jul 9, 2018

Start a new global movement: City Olympics

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Jul 8, 2018

“Make cities great again”

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Jun 30, 2018

“We need to answer Why-questions”

News

Jun 20, 2018

Facebook data show gender divide [CSH Press Release]

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Jun 18, 2018

Congrats, Helga Nowotny!

News

Jun 14, 2018

“I guess its just for fun”

News

Jun 1, 2018

Where to go, complexity? [Conference Pics and Slides]

Event

CSH Talk by Peter Turchin


Oct 04, 2018 | 15:0016:00

Event

CSH Talk by Markus Strauss


Dec 14, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Leonhard Horstmeyer


Dec 07, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Jan Korbel


Nov 30, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Simon Schweighofer


Nov 23, 2018 | 14:0017:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Michael Miess


Nov 16, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Nino Lauber


Oct 05, 2018 | 14:0015:30

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

D4Dairy: Kick-off-Meeting


Nov 05, 2018

VetmedUni Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Tuan Pham, Leonhard Horstmeyer & Ruggiero Lo Sardo


Sep 21, 2018 | 14:0015:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH Talk by Christoph Fabianek: “Data Mobility”


Sep 27, 2018 | 15:00

Complexity Science Hub Vienna

Event

CSH–CEU Workshop


Oct 01, 2018

CEU (Central European University)

Visitor

Tatjana Novakovic, WU IRIC


Sep 11, 2018

Press

Künstliche Intelligenz: Kann eine Maschine moralisch handeln?


Der Standard Online, Sep 18, 2018

Press

Wie ticken die Roboter? [offline]


Ö1 Digital Leben, Sep 11, 2018

Press

Machine Behaviour: Neues Forschungsfeld über Verhalten von Maschinen


APA Science, Sep 6, 2018

Press

Stilkunde mit Big Data


ORF Science, Aug 29, 2018

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Berechenbare Bilder: Forscher erzählen Kunstgeschichte mit Big Data


APA Science, Aug 29, 2018

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Facebook Use Linked to Gender Equality


Scientific American, Aug 28, 2018

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Stephen Lansing: “Die Welt als Ganzes verstehen”


Die Presse, Aug 25, 2018

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Big Data soll menschlichen Einfluss sichtbarer machen


APA Science, Aug 24, 2018

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Künstliche Intelligenz: Europa fehlt digitale Infrastruktur


Der Standard, Aug 16, 2018

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Wer die Daten hat, entscheidet


Wiener Zeitung, Aug 16, 2018

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“Die Ungewissheit umarmen”


DIE ZEIT , Aug 2, 2018