War and Peace and War?

A fascinating article in the Guardian’s Life section today – let down, unfortunately, by an over-emphasis on current events at the end – about the renowned Trantorian mathematician Hari Seldon’s predictive science of Psychohistory ecologist Peter Turchin’s, of the University of Conneticut, mathematical model of history – detailed in his book Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, updated as War & Peace & War out this September. The article includes a great quote from the profoundly anti-deterministic historian Niall Ferguson

“We do not really study [historical] causes, but what people at the time thought were the causes. And our aim in retrieving their thoughts is not so much to explain how things happened as to understand how they seemed to have happened.”

  • wondering

    What’s with all the strikethroughs in the blog pieces pete?

    Is it meant to be humourous or actually serve some (for me) unseen purpose?

  • peteb

    The purpose is to note the Asimov reference.. which the linked article also contains in the first paragraph.

  • Tom Griffin

    Interesting stuff. Large scale historical theories were kind of discredited in the Twentieth Century by the failure of Marxism.

    However, there has been some good work done by people like Fernand Braudel, William McNeill and the world-system school.

    From his website, Turchin seems to belong to this tradition. So it might be worth checking out some of the earlier writers if you find his stuff compelling.

  • Gonzo

    I had no idea what the post was on about, to be honest. But pete could probably say the same about some of mine.

  • peteb

    Sheesh Gonzo.. you should know by now that I have a tendency to link, what I consider, interesting articles without too much comment.. and hope that others will find them equally interesting.. but I do try to add as much background as I can find.. although, I should probably point out, I find Niall Ferguson’s description of the study of history much more compelling than that of Hari Seldon’s.

  • Gonzo

    I read Ferguson’s ‘American Collossus’ earlier this year. Interesting.

  • peteb

    I should also note, as well as the Niall Ferguson quote I used in the original post, the reference in the linked article to the American historian, Joseph Tainter –

    And the potential relevance to our own situation – for the benefit of Gonzo 😉 –

    Using modern understanding of how cooperative behaviour develops in groups of organisms, Turchin’s models suggest that asabiya becomes particularly strong on the frontiers of empires, where two civilisations confront one another. This, he says, was how a small group of Cossacks led by Yermak Timofeyevich was able to defeat a much larger army of Tatars in Siberia in 1582.

    Thus, the “meta-ethnic faultlines” between civilisations are “asabiya incubators” from which new empires spring. Here, either you unite or you die.

    The happy consequence is that frontier peoples bury their differences and help one another. The downside is that they exaggerate factors that distinguish them from their foes, who become subhuman barbarians, heathens or infidels. It’s us versus them.

    As I’ve already said.. I don’t agree with Hari Seldon’s predictive theory.. but there are certain individuals and groups promoting this type of analysis to our situtation.. for their own purposes.