Browsing All Posts published on »May, 2012«

What do the Mississippian and Chinese Civilizations Have in Common?

May 24, 2012 by


The central question of social evolution is how we can understand the rise of complex societies with extensive cooperation among millions (and more) of people. In less technical terms, what are the origins of civilizations and empires? I couldn’t help but think about this question during my visit to the Cahokia Mounds. Why was the […]

The Splendor and Mystery of the Mississippian Civilization

May 19, 2012 by

Comments Off

During the Spring semester I teach a class in Cultural Evolution for about 150 students. We use a ‘clicker’ technology that allows me to poll all students in the class electronically. Every year I ask them, in what state was the most complex, largest-scale pre-Columbian society in North America located? Most students choose New Mexico, […]

The Dark Side of Cultural Evolution

May 17, 2012 by


Cultural evolution is what created the – in many ways – wonderful societies that we live in. It created the potential to free our lives from hunger and early death, and made possible the pursuit of science and art. But cultural evolution also has a dark side, in fact, many ‘dark sides.’ Clearly domestication of […]

Guest Blog by Yasha Hartberg. Rules as Genotype: Let’s not declare the idea dead too quickly

May 14, 2012 by


I was another participant at the Rules as Genotype workshop held at Indiana University recently.  Unlike Peter Turchin, however, I came away with a very different perspective on the usefulness of the metaphor.  I am undoubtedly somewhat biased since some of my own research explores the idea of a sacred text as a kind of […]

Herbert Gintis. Commentary on Dunbar and Baumard

May 12, 2012 by


In his engaging Social Evolution Forum contribution, Networking Past and Present, R.I.M. Dunbar argues that in traditional societies, most people share the same network of friends and relatives because they belong to the same community. In contemporary society, by contrast, our social networks have become fragmented, and we live predominantly with casual acquaintances and strangers. […]

Daniel N. Finkel. Social Cognition in a Digital World (Commentary on Dunbar)

May 11, 2012 by

Comments Off

In his excellent target article, “Networking Past and Present”, Dunbar argues that though contemporary personal networks are often geographically dispersed and not densely interconnected, the number of personal relationships individuals can maintain has not changed since our origins in tribal communities.  He further suggests that despite the hype surrounding Internet social networking sites (SNS’s), they […]

Paul Hooper. Socioecology of Networks (Commentary on Dunbar)

May 10, 2012 by

Comments Off

Dunbar’s article provides a quick trip through major historical transitions in the structure of human social networks. He addresses continuity and change in network structure between traditional small-scale human societies, on the one hand, and modern urbanized societies on the other. He argues that while the total size of co-resident populations (i.e. towns, cities) has […]

Marcus J. Hamilton. Commentary on Dunbar

May 9, 2012 by

Comments Off

In “Networking Past and Present” Dunbar offers a brief, but important overview of the importance of understanding the role of complex network structures in all types of human organizations and societies, from the internal substructure of traditional subsistence societies to the frequency of friending on Facebook. Remarkably, the empirical statistical structures of these seemingly very […]

Nicolas Baumard. The evolution of cooperation: from networks to institutions (Commentary on Dunbar)

May 8, 2012 by


Our ancestral environment differed greatly from our current environment, for the better (we enjoy better, safer and longer lives than our ancestors) but also for the worse. In his text, Dunbar points out, in particular, that while we used to spend our whole life with the same people, we now live mostly with strangers, people […]

R.I.M. Dunbar: Networking Past and Present

May 7, 2012 by


Recent history has witnessed two important dramatic changes that have had a deep bearing on our social lives. One has been the way travel has shrunk the world to create a growing level of economic interdependence: butterflies flapping their wings in Brazil really do have reverberations on the economics and politics of every other continent […]

Studying the Past to Design a Better Future

May 6, 2012 by


Last week I was in St. Louis, where I first participated in the Consilience Conference, then went on a day trip to Cahokia Mounds, and finally gave a talk at Washington University. This has been a very intense and productive trip, and I already see that I will need several blogs to cover various themes […]

Guest Blog by Bernard Winograd: An Evolutionary Theory of Political Change

May 4, 2012 by


What creates political and social changes in a democracy? This is a question being asked a lot lately in the United States, largely because the degree of polarization of American politics is widely perceived to have increased dramatically since the 1960s, with each party becoming less tolerant of ideological diversity in its ranks and both […]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 455 other followers