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Trinity College Dublin

1st International Workshop on Computational History - Public Lecture

The mathematics of impending social implosion

Why we should be worried about trends in inequality and polarization
6-7:30pm, June 26th 2014, RIA, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2, Ireland

A recording of this lecture is available here.

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 lecture is part of 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.

After the talk, we invite you to continue the conversation in Café en Seine, 40 Dawson Street, just across the street.

Professor Peter Turchin

Peter Turchin is Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut and a Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

He is the author of three books on mathematical analysis of historical data: Secular Cycles (2009), War and Peace and War: The Life Cycles of Imperial Nations (2006), and Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall (2003).

His forthcoming book, A structural demographic analysis of American History, will be published in 2014.

He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Cliodynamics – the Journal of Theoretical and Mathematical History). He also maintains a web-site devoted to Cliodynamics, the new transdisciplinary area of research he has founded at the intersection of historical macrosociology, economic history/cliometrics, mathematical modeling of long-term social processes, and the construction and analysis of historical databases. His blog can be found on the Social Evolution Forum.

He is Vice-President and a Founding Member of the Evolution Institute.

He is one of the top cited authors in the field of Ecology/Environment, according to He has published 12 articles in Nature, Science & PNAS, the most influential scientific publications in the world.

His work has been widely covered in both the popular scientific press and the mainstream media, including New Scientist, Aeon Magazine, the BBC Smithsonian Magazine and Wired magazine. For details and links to more popular articles please see the Cliodynamics in Popular Media page.

For the background of Prof. Turchin’s lecture, please see these two popular articles:

1. Return of the Oppressed: From the Roman Empire to our own Gilded Age, inequality moves in cycles. The future looks like a rough ride. Aeon Magazine

2. Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays. Bloomberg View