The Mathematics of History

image0In Isaac Asimov’s science fiction series Foundation, mathematicians known as psychohistorians use statistics to make predictions about future events. Real historians aren’t ready to turn their gaze from the past to the future quite yet - nor to save the galaxy from a dark age lasting 30,000 years - but they may be ready to unleash statistics on the past.

At least that is what Peter Turchin, a professor of Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Mathematics, and Anthropology, is trying to do. He coined the term cliodynamics to describe a field focused on applying statistical models to explain historical outcomes and trends. And, in a recent paper, he unveils a model that simulates the rise and fall of empires and complex societies over 3,000 years of human history.