Los Angeles Times: Scientists use math — and computer war games — to show how society evolved

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Los Angeles Times: Scientists use math — and computer war games — to show how society evolved
Los Angeles Times Pic

Mathematical formulas that incorporate ancient wars helped researchers to figure out how complex societies came about. Pictured is “Mongol Archer on Horseback,” an early 15th century illustration from the Diez Albums. (LACMA)

By Monte Morin

September 24, 2013, 6:00 a.m.

How did human societies ever manage to evolve from small, tightknit groups into vast, organized states?

Researchers, using computers and math, show it was the result of some very antisocial behavior. New findings, published in the journal PNAS, used mathematical formulas and computers to simulate warfare in ancient Europe, Asia and Africa.

Researchers concluded that an increase in the intensity of armed combat — and the spread of military technology — spurred the rise of large, complex societies.

“The story of our past is not just a case of ‘one dammed thing after another,’ ” wrote lead author Peter Turchin, a University of Connecticut professor. “There are general mechanisms at play in shaping the broad patterns of history.”

Turchin, who teaches in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, specializes in a field he calls cliodynamics — the study of cyclical patterns in human history, such as the rise and fall of empires. The field is named for Clio, the Greek muse of history…..

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