From Scale to Information and Back: Human Social Evolution in the Holocene

Jaeweon Shin, Michael Holton Price, David H. Wolpert, Hajime Shimao, Brendan Tracey and Timothy A. Kohler

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Jan 03, 2020
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Received Date: 16th December 19

We use the recently introduced Seshat database to investigate the long-timescale development of human societies. Seshat contains high-dimensional sociopolitical features for hundreds of polities, from multiple continents, over many thousands of years. Examining the statistical covariations among those social features, we find that the process of sociopolitical development is dominated first by growth in polity scale, then by improvements in its information processing and economic systems, and then by further increases in scale. This allows us to define a Scale Threshold for societies, beyond which growth in information processing becomes paramount, and an Information Threshold, which once crossed permits additional growth in scale. Polities diverge from one another in sociopolitical feature space prior to crossing the Information Threshold, but then reconverge. Our results have implications for the timing of the appearance of moralizing gods, the role of population growth and institutions in sociopolitical evolution, and the causes for the evolutionary divergence between Old and New World polities.

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This is an abstract of a preprint hosted on an independent third party site. It has not been peer reviewed but is currently under consideration at Nature Communications.

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