Mathematical model explains how complex societies emerge, collapse

Jan 19, 2011

The instability of large, complex societies is a predictable phenomenon, according to a new mathematical model that explores the emergence of early human societies via warfare. Capturing hundreds of years of human history, the model reveals the dynamical nature of societies, which can be difficult to uncover in archaeological data.

The research, led Sergey Gavrilets, associate director for scientific activities at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and a professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, is published in the first issue of the new journal Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History, the first academic journal dedicated to research from the emerging science of theoretical history and mathematics.

The focuses on both size and complexity of emerging "polities" or states as well as their and settlement patterns as a result of warfare. A number of factors were measured, but unexpectedly, the largest effect on the results was due to just two factors – the scaling of a state's power to the probability of winning a conflict and a leader's average time in power. According to the model, the stability of large, complex polities is strongly promoted if the outcomes of conflicts are mostly determined by the polities' wealth or power, if there exist well-defined and accepted means of succession, and if control mechanisms within polities are internally specialized. The results also showed that polities experience what the authors call "chiefly cycles" or rapid cycles of growth and collapse due to warfare.

The wealthiest of polities does not necessarily win a conflict, however. There are many other factors besides wealth that can affect the outcome of a conflict, the authors write. The model also suggests that the rapid collapse of a polity can occur even without environmental disturbances, such as drought or overpopulation.

By using a , the researchers were able to capture the dynamical processes that cause chiefdoms, states and empires to emerge, persist and collapse at the scale of decades to centuries.

"In the last several decades, mathematical models have been traditionally important in the physical, life and economic sciences, but now they are also becoming important for explaining historical data," said Gavrilets. "Our model provides theoretical support for the view that cultural, demographic and ecological conditions can predict the emergence and dynamics of complex societies."

Explore further: Local education politics 'far from dead'

More information: Gavrilets S, Anderson D, Turchin P. 2010. Cycling in the complexity of early societies. Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History. 1:1 escholarship.org/uc/irows_clio… ics?volume=1;issue=1

Provided by National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis

4.3 /5 (6 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Societies evolve slowly, just like biological species

Oct 14, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- It has been a contentious issue for some time among historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists whether societies and cultures arise slowly or in sudden bursts and if they collapse in ...

New mathematical model could aid studies of cardiac muscle

Jul 26, 2010

Researchers have developed a new mathematical model that may provide a simpler and better way of predicting ventricular function during the cardiac cycle. The new model could help researchers improve treatment options for ...

Recommended for you

Local education politics 'far from dead'

14 hours ago

Teach for America, known for recruiting teachers, is also setting its sights on capturing school board seats across the nation. Surprisingly, however, political candidates from the program aren't just pushing ...

First grade reading suffers in segregated schools

15 hours ago

A groundbreaking study from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) has found that African-American students in first grade experience smaller gains in reading when they attend segregated schools—but the ...

Violent aftermath for the warriors at Alken Enge

15 hours ago

Denmark attracted international attention in 2012 when archaeological excavations revealed the bones of an entire army, whose warriors had been thrown into the bogs near the Alken Enge wetlands in East Jutland ...

Why aren't consumers buying remanufactured products?

17 hours ago

Firms looking to increase market share of remanufactured consumer products will have to overcome a big barrier to do so, according to a recent study from the Penn State Smeal College of Business. Findings from faculty members ...

Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall

17 hours ago

People learn better and recall more when given the impression that they will soon have to teach newly acquired material to someone else, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

User comments : 0