2014-10-13

New paper: Can Government Be Self-Organized? A Mathematical Model of the Collective Social Organization of Ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Teotihuacan was the first urban civilization of Mesoamerica and one of the largest of the ancient world. Following a tradition in archaeology to equate social complexity with centralized hierarchy, it is widely believed that the city’s origin and growth was controlled by a lineage of powerful individuals. However, much data is indicative of a government of co-rulers, and artistic traditions expressed an egalitarian ideology. Yet this alternative keeps being marginalized because the problems of collective action make it difficult to conceive how such a coalition could have functioned in principle. We therefore devised a mathematical model of the city’s hypothetical network of representatives as a formal proof of concept that widespread cooperation was realizable in a fully distributed manner. In the model, decisions become self-organized into globally optimal configurations even though local representatives behave and modify their relations in a rational and selfish manner. This self-optimization crucially depends on occasional communal interruptions of normal activity, and it is impeded when sections of the network are too independent. We relate these insights to theories about community-wide rituals at Teotihuacan and the city’s eventual disintegration.

Froese, T., Gershenson, C., and Manzanilla, L. R. (2014). Can government be self-organized? a mathematical model of the collective social organization of ancient teotihuacan, central mexico. PLoS ONE 9 (10) (10): e109966. http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0109966

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