The “Cultural History Database Initiative” refers to a broad set of projects, including the EI-hosted Seshat Databank and the SSHRC-funded Database of Religious History (DRH). An animation describing these projects and their ambitious goal of consolidating disparate information about human culture was one of five top projects in the annual SSHRC Storytellers’ Contest. We are proud of the diverse collaborations that have generated this growing body of knowledge and the predictions it will help researchers make about humanity.
“Professor Peter Turchin, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Connecticut has attempted to apply the analytical tools of evolutionary science to explain the demographic cycles that contribute to political instability and the breakdown of states that lead to wars.”
Peter Turchin, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, is doing just that through complex mathematical algorithms. Listen to his Academic Minute on WAMC – Northeast Public Radio
“In fact, nobody has been able to predict these revolutions. It is impossible to pinpoint the spark that will make the casserole explode. However, one can measure the pressure in the pot and see if it is correlated with a number of socio-economic factors. This is the model the American researcher Peter Turchin was building in the country he knew best, the United States.”
Turchin’s article in Aeon Magazine.
When Russia annexed Crimea in March, American policymakers were taken by surprise. They shouldn’t have been, argued the political theorist John J. Mearsheimer in a New York Times op-ed. After all: “Mr Putin’s behaviour is motivated by the same geopolitical considerations that influence all great powers, including the United States.”
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The founding members of the EI’s Cultural Evolution Society were surveyed to identify the major scientific questions and ‘grand challenges’ currently facing the study of cultural evolution. They present the results and discuss the implications for an emergent synthesis in the study of culture based on Darwinian principles.
Seshat is a vast and growing database of historical and archaeological knowledge that can be explored using scientific techniques. That makes it a powerful tool for testing and ultimately discarding hypotheses. “A cemetery for theories,” is how Seshat co-founder Peter Turchin at the University of Connecticut in Storrs describes it. By making history more evidence-based, he and his colleagues hope it will become more relevant.
Complex human societies, including our own, are fragile. They are held together by an invisible web of mutual trust and social cooperation. This web can fray easily, resulting in a wave of political instability, internal conflict and, sometimes, outright social collapse.
Analysis of past societies shows that these destabilizing historical trends develop slowly, last many decades, and are slow to subside. The Roman Empire, Imperial China and medieval and early-modern England and France suffered such cycles, to cite a few examples. In the U.S., the last long period of instability began in the 1850s and lasted through the Gilded Age and the “violent 1910s.”
Read the rest of the article here.
In a recent episode of Through the Wormhole titled “What Makes a Terrorist?”, Morgan Freeman presented Prof. Turchin’s ‘radical’ idea, and Evolution Institute project Seshat: Global History Databank, of using history as a guide to understand why people join terrorist groups, what breeds such groups to begin with, and what to do about it now.
“I think that [Bernie Sanders] has been doing a wonderful job of making people aware that there’s something that’s really important and positive that’s happened historically in these Nordic countries,” says Jerry Lieberman, co-founder of the Evolution Institute, an international scientific think tank. “They have evolved to be more caring counties, and nations where people really matter, nations that are more fundamentally democratic than our own political system. That’s a wonderful thing. He has almost legitimized (something) that in the past has been dismissed outright as homogenous and small counties.”
“They have launched a general theory of ‘multilevel selection,’ where groups of genes, cells and individuals compete and are selected in parallel, layer by layer, like Russian Matryoshka dolls. These are just some of the many ideas discussed in professional circles, and hopefully eventually would give humans a better understanding of ourselves.”
Evolutionary scientists studying dreamland Norway: Evolusjonsforskere studerer drømmelandet Norge. “ ‘It’s like baseball. If one team wins every year , people ask whether it is money , the players or the coach. I’ll do the same,’ says Lieberman.”
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