Scientific Sense Podcast

Friday, October 4, 2013

Simulated colonies

A recent article in the Journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that a simple mathematical simulation explains the formation and progression of human populations between 1500 BCE and 1500 CE. The authors appear proud that their models explain reasonably well how large scale societies formed. However, it also indicates that “intelligently designed” humans resemble ants and bees than something more substantial.

For most of the history of humans – a few parameters that describe the interactions of ecology and geography were enough to explain and forecast their behavior. Sporting fairly simple objective functions that include food, sex and power, human societies flourished with less flexibility and depth shown by ants and bees. They have been understandably proud of the accomplishments of the last few centuries in which they devised faster and more destructive ways to perpetuate the same goals.  Now, simple mathematics prove societal behavior can be easily modeled.

As they dream of perpetuating their genes across the solar system and beyond, humans may benefit from some introspection – what they have done thus far and why they may not do anything different in the future.

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