Friday, September 27, 2013

The Mathematics of Inequality and Empire

"All hard sciences like physics, chemistry, biology and economics all have an important mathematical component," he tells PopMech, As an evolutionary biologist, Gavrilets developed models to explain biological process. But eight years ago, he switched focus to human origins, and trying to use mathematics to explain the course of human events. For this study, he worked with Peter Turchin, a evolutionary biology professor at the University of Connecticut. In 2003, Turchin coined the term cliodynamics, an intersection of macrosociology and mathematical modeling. "History, in a sense, is the last science that doesn't have [math], so there is a group of people who've been building foundations to do a quantitative approach to historical events," Gavrilets says.

Spanning three millennia (1500 BCE to 1500 CE), the model used these three criteria to run simulations: the presence of agriculture, the ruggedness of the terrain, and most importantly, the distance from the Steppe geographical area, a belt that extends throughout Eurasia. "It appears that a lot of military technologies were invented in this Steppe area," Gavrilets says, including combat on horseback and metal weaponry. Nomads in this Steppe area developed war tech to pillage nearby agricultural societies, he says. As centuries pass, these military advancements spread, and play a key role in the rise of new powers.

The computer model begins with 2600 small societies. When a stronger society encounters a weaker one, they assimilate the weaker society's culture and an empire begins to grow. Run this scenario a couple hundred times over 3000 years, influenced by massive amounts of historical data, and Gavrilets recreates a facsimile of human history in a few hours. The first centuries are almost identical, with early empires forming out of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. The simulation is a slow crawl spreading from this center into Western Europe and Southeast Asia. True history is a little more erratic, with some empires disappearing in one century and reappearing the next. However, the general structure of humanity's social development remains similar between the two.

Can Math Predict The Rise and Fall of Empires? (Popular Mechanics) I'd hate to think what the math on modern-day America looks like. Here's Science Daily's coverage: Math Explains History: Simulation Accurately Captures the Evolution of Ancient Complex Societies:
The question of how human societies evolve from small groups to the huge, anonymous and complex societies of today has been answered mathematically, accurately matching the historical record on the emergence of complex states in the ancient world.

Intense warfare is the evolutionary driver of large complex societies, according to new research from a trans-disciplinary team at the University of Connecticut, the University of Exeter in England, and the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). The study appears this week as an open-access article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study's cultural evolutionary model predicts where and when the largest-scale complex societies arose in human history.
While not from the simulation, here are some maps to help you make sense of it: Maps of Vast Empires That No Longer Exist (io9)

And speaking of mathematical social models, according to some researchers, hierarchical societies are more likely to spread than egalitarian ones. In times of scarcity, egalitarian societies are more stable, while hierarchical, stratified ones are motivated to conquer their neighbors. In addition, hierarchical societies tend to whether scarcity better because the peasants just do society the favor of dying off, leaving the rich and powerful intact. I would imagine that hierarchical, stratified societies are better at warfare, too, because of all the people willing to blindly follow the leaders:
Why do most cultures have a class structure -- rich, poor and sometimes middle -- instead of being egalitarian, with resources shared equally by everyone?

According to Stanford University researchers, it is the very inequities of the class structure that appear to have been behind the spread of those societies and the displacement of more egalitarian cultures during the early era of human civilization.

The researchers used a computer simulation to compare demographic stability and rates of migration for both egalitarian and unequal societies. They found that class structure provided unequal access to resources, thereby contributing a destabilizing effect on the population, and driving migration and the expansion of stratified societies.

Feldman and his colleagues determined that when resources were consistently scarce, egalitarian societies -- which shared the deprivation equally throughout the population -- remained more stable than stratified societies. In stratified societies, the destabilizing effect of unequal sharing of scarce resources gave those societies more incentive to migrate in search of added resources.

In environments where the availability of resources fluctuated from year to year, stratified societies were better able to survive the temporary shortages because the bulk of the deprivation was absorbed by the lower classes, leaving the ruling class -- and the overall social structure -- intact. That stability enabled them to expand more readily than egalitarian societies, which weren't able to adapt to changing conditions as quickly.

Many possible causes for the development of socioeconomic inequality have been proposed by scientists, such as a need for hierarchical control over crop irrigation systems, or the compounding of small differences in individual wealth over time through inheritance.

"The fact that unequal societies today vastly outnumber egalitarian societies may not be due to the replacement of the ethic of equality by a more selfish ethic, as originally thought by many researchers," said cultural evolution specialist Deborah Rogers, lead author of the study. "Instead, it appears that the stratified societies simply spread and took over, crowding out the egalitarian populations." The study is a product of her PhD thesis project at Stanford. Feldman was Rogers' adviser.

"This is not just an academic exercise," Rogers said. "Inequalities in socioeconomic status are increasing sharply around the world. Understanding the causes and consequences of inequality and how to reduce it is one of the central challenges of our time."
Suffering of the Poor May Have Helped Societies With Class Structures Spread Across Globe (Science Daily) Here's the original article - The Spread of Inequality. If true, it's pretty depressing. It means that command-and-control societies will eventually displace any more egalitarian societies. Sadly, history seems to serve as a guide, here.

1 comment:

  1. Well, yeah, but how do you get to the stratified society in the first place? That is the big question nobody's yet provided a credible answer.


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