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The Mathematics of Impending Social Implosion

Thursday, June 26, 2014
Royal Irish Academy


The Mathematics of Impending Social Implosion
Why we should be worried about trends in inequality and polarization


Public Lecture by Professor Peter Turchin


Thursday June 26, 2014
6.00pm - 7.30pm
Royal Irish Academy
No registration required


The internal cohesion of societies waxes and wanes over time. Mathematical analysis of historical data reveals that this dynamic tends to follow a predictable pattern, involving interlinked economic, demographic and cultural trends. The interplay of these trends creates regular cycles of internal conflict and political instability which make societies susceptible to collapse. Mathematical models based on this analysis reveal how current trends in economic inequality, political polarization, and failing cooperation within societies are interlinked. These models point to significant risks of internal conflicts and even social implosion in the coming decade.

In this public lecture, Professor Peter Turchin will describe the mathematical model and the historical evidence that supports it. He will present the results of his analysis of current trends in the United States, on which he has been working for the last 3 years, and their worrying implications. Finally, he will present early results of an analysis of the dynamics of political instability in both the UK and Ireland today.

The largely unexpected global economic crisis that began in 2007 highlighted the lack of models with the ability to explain long-term social and economic dynamics. This has created renewed interest in models that are not based solely upon economic ideas but are backed by a more wholistic view of societal function and analysis of the historical evidence, including an increased focus on long-term trends in wealth allocation. For example, Thomas Piketty’s international best-seller Capital in the 21st Century, demonstrated that the market economy had a tendency to allocate an ever increasing proportion of wealth to the owners of capital.

Professor Turchin is one of the leading international scientists working on the mathematical analysis of historical social data, a field that straddles the boundaries between mathematics, computer science, biology, social science and the humanities. In this public lecture, he will present some of the significant methods and findings of the field to date. The content of the talk will include some technical content, but will not depend upon it and will be accessible to the broad scientifically and historically interested public. It will provide insights from the cutting edge of research which will be valuable for anybody who is interested in social analysis.

This free public lecture is being held in conjunction with the 1st International Workshop on Computational History, jointly organised by the Knowledge and Data Engineering Group, Trinity College Dublin, and the Digital Repository of Ireland, Royal Irish Academy.