2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

CCSE SEMINAR - Peter Turchin "Explaining the Evolution of Social Complexity"

Babbio 541 / Online via Blackboard Collaborate

Center for Complex Systems and Enterprises
Distinguished Lecture Series

Explaining the Evolution of Social Complexity:
Cultural Selection of ‘Ultrasocial’ Norms and Institutions

Peter Turchin
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Connecticut
Anthropology, University of Oxford
The Evolution Institute

ABSTRACT: What are the social forces that hold together complex societies encompassing hundreds of millions of people? How did human ultrasociality – extensive cooperation among large numbers of unrelated individuals – evolve? In particular, how do ultrasocial norms and institutions, cultural elements that make cooperation in large-scale societies possible, evolve despite their significant costs? The theory of cultural group selection is a powerful theoretical framework for addressing these questions. I use this framework to investigate a major transition in human social evolution, from small-scale egalitarian groups to large-scale hierarchical societies such as states and empires. A key mathematical result in the theory is that large states should arise in regions where interpolity competition – warfare – is particularly intense, resulting in high probability of cultural trait extinction. I explore the implications of this theoretical result with a spatially explicit model of sociocultural evolution and find that the model does a remarkably good job predicting where and when large states appeared in Afrouerasia between 1500 BCE and 1500 CE.
BIO:  Peter Turchin was trained as a theoretical biologist, but during the last fifteen years he has been working in the field of historical social science that he and his colleagues call Cliodynamics  ( His research interests lie at the intersection of sociocultural evolution,  historical macrosociology, economic history and cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. More specifically, he investigates two broad and interrelated questions: what general mechanisms explain the collapse of historical empires? And how did large-scale states and empires evolve in the first place? What are the social forces that hold together huge human conglomerates, and under what conditions they fail? Turchin uses the theoretical framework of cultural multilevel selection to address these questions. Currently his main research effort is directed at coordinating SESHAT—a massive historical database of cultural evolution that will be used in empirical tests of theoretical predictions coming from various social evolution theories.
Turchin has published >100 articles in peer-reviewed journals, including >10 in Nature, Science, and PNAS. His publications are frequently cited and in 2004 he was desginated as “Highly cited researcher” by Turchin has authored five books. The most recent include Secular Cycles (with Sergey Nefedov, Princeton, 2009), War and Peace and War (Plume, 2005), and Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall (Princeton, 2003).
Turchin is Editor-in-Chief of  Cliodynamics: The Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History. His blog is on the Social Evolution Forum.
Web page (with a link to publications and CV):
Click here for the Cliodynamics web site


The Center for Complex Systems and Enterprises (CCSE) focuses its research on four key domains – Healthcare Delivery, Financial Systems, Sustainable Energy, and National Security – from the lens of Complex Systems and Enterprises.


9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Conference on Systems Engineering Research (CSER 2015)

Stevens Institute of Technology

March 17-19, 2015
Hoboken, NJ, United States

Tuesday, March 17: SEANET Workshop (Systems Engineering & Architecting Doctoral Network for Research)
This workshop is designed for current or soon-to-be doctoral students, and consists of speakers and breakout sessions focused on performing doctoral research.

Wednesday, March 18 - Thursday, March 19: CSER Conference     


The 13th Annual Conference on Systems Engineering Research (CSER) invites authors to submit papers that push the boundaries of systems engineering research and respond to new challenges for systems architecting and engineering. Since its inception, CSER has become the primary conference for disseminating systems engineering research and germinating new research ideas.

Current and prospective doctoral students are also invited to attend the Systems Engineering & Architecting Network for Research (SEANET) workshop on March 17, 2015. Research challenges and strategies for success in graduate research will be discussed.


2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

CCSE SEMINAR - Thomas Bruderman

Babbio 541

The Center for Complex Systems and Enterprises (CCSE) focuses its research on four key domains – Healthcare Delivery, Financial Systems, Sustainable Energy, and National Security – from the lens of Complex Systems and Enterprises.


All Day

Undergraduate Reading Day

Undergraduate Reading Day