I recently stumbled across the work of Peter Turchin, an evolutionary biologist, who is attempting to applying quantifiable scientific techniques to the study of history as part of a field known as cliodynamics.

From the Santa Fe Institute's blurb on it:

The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes," Mark Twain once said, a reference to the patterns of history, perceived anecdotally. Today, a new field is coalescing around the notion that historical patterns are, to some degree, measurable, and that the future can, also to some degree, be predicted. Researchers involved in the field call it "cliodynamics" after Clio, the Greek muse of history.

Scholars of human history traditionally have studied the past as a chain of idiosyncratic events, with each event a unique response to unique circumstances, says SFI External Professor David Krakauer. Historical fields such as paleontology have relied on collections of evidence—fossils, for example—to draw inferences about the past.

A few fields have made strides in approaching history as a science. In archaeology, for example, rigorous field survey methods have provided new, quantifiable information about the location, distribution, frequency, and organization of certain human activities. In population genetics, evolutionary outcomes are modeled as probabilities. Cliodynamicists would like to see the historical fields sharing methods among themselves and adopting approaches and theories from physics and other long-quantified fields.

The tools of complexity science are now beginning to make the task tractable, Krakauer says. Mathematical and computational techniques such as agent-based models, power-law relations, and more classical differential-equation models are in several fields helping scientists develop new theoretical frameworks, for example.

Although he did not perhaps agree with how reductionistic cliodynamics seems at first glance, I can't help but see echoes of Giovanni Battista Vico's New Science in this effort.

I have to give credit for the sheer audacity of this pipedream.

Turchin has published a book called Secular Cycles related to this topic and also maintains a website. I started to wade through his paper on analyzing the "Dynamics of political instability in the United States, 1780–2010" also. It's not without flaws, but is worth a look.

The whole field may end up doomed to failure and hopefully won't become another dismal science, but I thought it was worth a look, and was wondering if any other specs are familiar with it.

If nothing else, it might cross pollinate with some ideas for trading.

anonymous writes: 

This sounds VERY much like the premise behind Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series, the books that got me hooked on his work and Sci-Fi in general.

From the above wiki:

The premise of the series is that the mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept of mathematical sociology. Using the laws of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale. 





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