HistoryQuant Update—May 2016

It has been several months since the last update, but work has been continuing in several areas.


HistoryQuant continues to conduct research in the following areas.

  • Several forms of differential equations have been developed for efficiency discounted exponential growth (EDEG). Although some of these equations are not be directly solvable, they are be iteratively processed by computer programs, so results can still be determined.
  • Am improved EDEG model has been produced to model mining region production and applied to a revised model for the Colorado San Juans mining region.
  • Colossus Model of World History: a computer simulation using an EDEG approach has been further developed to model major dynasties during 1600 BCE to 1917 CE. Additional dynasties have been added. The timing of the dynasties is still highly empirical, but the rise and fall are based upon growth discounted by a linear discount function.
  • Microeconomics is being expressed in thermodynamic terms. This will help better analyze dynasties and economic bubbles.
  • Other areas of research are underway, and will be reported when further results are available. They include: 1) production-consumption functions for exhaustible resources, 2) transitions from exhaustible resource economies to renewable resource economies, and 3) Dynasty structure

Community and Winter Institute

  • The development of a science of history and society was presented and discussed extensively at a Winter Institute in January-February 2016 with sessions in Florida and California, in part, to discuss key aspects of developing a science of history. The Big Sustainability Institute was formed as a result of those discussions to apply the results of HistoryQuant work to sustainability challenges.
  • If you wish to be added to the Big Sustainability announcement list, please email mpaciotola at gmail dot com

Conference Presentation

  • A case study based upon an efficiency-discounted exponential growth model for the Colorado San Juans mining region was updated and presented at the Richard Robinson Business History Workshop 2016: “Business and Environment in History: Dealing in Nature and Ecology, Pasts and Futures” at Portland State University in April.
Winter Institute 2016, San Diego

Winter Institute 2016, San Diego

Dynasty Power Simulations Available!

Romanov dynasty power profile

Romanov dynasty power profile

HistoryQuant can use its unique simulators to generate a power models of your favorite historical dynasty using techniques derived from thermodynamics. Large, independent, robust dynasties work best.

For more information about the general approach, see http://arxiv.org/abs/1411.4739 (with the understanding that the methodology has been somewhat updated since that paper).

The HistoryQuant workflow:

HistoryQuant lab workflow

HistoryQuant lab workflow

Perspectives on History magazine logo

Wake-Up Call: Technologists’ Take of History Is Coming to HBO

Letter to the American History Association Perspectives magazine regarding how Interstellar’s screenwriter Jonathan Nolan recently announced that he is developing an HBO series to adapt science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels, and how the history community should work before the showing to prevent misconceptions, and to guide increased interest in history into channels where it can be most effective and beneficial.



News from the 2015 AHA Annual Meeting

AHA 2015 Annual Meeting Banner Logo

The 2015 AHA Annual Meeting demonstrated the rapid influx of digital technology and even the “hard” sciences into the realm of historical research. Sessions of particular interest included The Resurgence of Science in Historical Method and History and Biology: History and Evolution. Such has not been without controversy, as demonstrated by Ethan Kleinberg’s talk Just the Facts: The Fantasy of a Historical Science. There were too many digital humanities sessions to mention here.

HistoryQuant’s Mark Ciotola gave a lightning talk on Developing Ruby Programming Simulations for History and Using R for Visualization. Relevant links follow:

Requirements of a Science of History

The physical sciences have advanced so far due to the utilisation of the scientific method and their unified nature.

In the scientific method, a hypothesis can be quantitatively tested and rejected rather than relying upon anecdote and informal observation. Using the scientific method, Galileo was able to establish that all objects fall to the surface of the Earth at the same rate, regardless of their mass, unless a counterforce such is present, such as atmospheric drag. This was counterintuitive, and flew in the face of contrary longstanding conclusions made by Aristotle and others.

Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans

Galileo Galilei by Justus Sustermans

The scientific method is necessary but not sufficient to develop a really powerful science of history. Social sciences such as sociology already use the scientific method in many cases. Yet those sciences remain highly disjointed, and relatively ineffectual.

The unified nature of the physical sciences (engineering, and to some extent the natural sciences) is an under-appreciated but vitally important source of their effectiveness. The demonstration by Isaac Newton that phenomena in both space and on the Earth were subject to the force of gravity was the cornerstone of this unification. Previously, terrestrial and celestial phenomena were treated as being subject to separate sets of laws.

Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller

Isaac Newton by Godfrey Kneller

In the unified physical sciences, a hypothesis must produce results that are consistent with the generally accepted principles of physics. It is expected that a hypothesis in the atmospheric sciences will be consistent with the known laws of thermodynamics, such as conservation of energy. When a hypothesis is inconsistent with the laws of physics and cannot be refuted using observational evidence, then the laws of physics must be changed. A principle in astronomy can hence be related and constrained by a principle in geology. Since the laws of physics are invariant across time and space, a planet around the Sun follows the same laws as a planet around a distant exoplanet.

To be truly effective, a science of history must be unified within itself. One principle must be consistent with another. This will be bitter pill to swallow for armchair kings and emperors who savor multiple theories and fought over them with ferocious enjoyment and indignant delight.

The pill gets more acerbate. To approach the effectiveness exercised by the physical sciences, a science of history must also be unified with the laws of physics. If so, historical phenomena must be constrained by physical laws such as the conservation of mass and energy. This is a controversial proposition, and not likely to be accepted without an overwhelming amount of supporting evidence and the passing of time.

In summary, for a science of history to approach the effectiveness of the physical science, it must use the scientific method, be unified within itself, and be unified with the laws of physics.

Links Page Provides A Brief Survey of Science of History Field

The Links page serves as a brief survey of endeavours related to the new science of history.

  • Research: several groups are featured from Australia, Europe and North America with approached ranging from ecological to thermodynamic approaches.
  • Data: most approaches need more of it, and the data source projects listed are mostly new and under development. Even Wikidata, which is the furthest along, is only about a year old. Wolfram Alpha is perhaps the most established.
  • Journals: the few that exist so far are of varied quality, but express vanguard of this field.
  • Tools and Software: there aren’t many tools specifically designed for this science yet, but there is an open source cellular automata program and several free simulations. More will be coming.
  • Outreach: a link to Big History media end the links on a fun, cosmic note.

History Quant will post news, articles and reviews about many of these endeavours and tools, and analyse how they all fit together. If any vital links have been missed, please tell the Editor!

The birth of a science of history

Portrait o Auguste Comte by Louis Jules Etex

Portrait of Auguste Comte by Louis Jules Etex (Wikimedia)

In the early 1800s, father of sociology August Comte looked with envy upon physical sciences and hoped to develop a science of society. The result was centuries of disappointment and even surrender. The field of sociology is working on important problems, but it is not the science that Comte anticipated.

In the mid-20th century, biochemist and science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote a series of science fiction stories about psychohistory, a mathematical science of society. These stories tantalised several generations of enthusiasts, but provided few clues on how to develop such a science, beyond it needing to be statistical.

Times have finally changed, and it is now an exciting time for the development of a science of history (and society). Recent advances in computing power have made a wide range of tools available that allow today’s pioneers to make a serious effort to develop a science of history. High level programming languages, machine learning and big data tools make processing and analysing data much more efficiency and cost-effective. The internet and the abundance of historical works now placed online make getting that data easier. Projects such as Seshat, Wikidata and Millennia Data will organise and warehouse that data and make it easily accessible to the world and allow for more critical validation.

Further, there is an increased willingness of physical and natural scientists to lead the development of such a science.These scientists are bringing paradigms and tools from biology, physics and computer science that are becoming the heart of this new science such as complex systems, ecology and thermodynamics. The spirit of enthusiasm so prevalent in the science and technology communities is bringing a new energy to the field of history.

Peter Turchin et al. are developing the field of Cliodynamics and building up a significant body of research and scholarship. I have been bringing physical approach to model the emergence and fall of dynasties and to generalise this science to apply to any society, be it on Earth or on distant exoplanets. David Christian’s Big History also connects human history with cosmology. Richard Carrier has developed techniques to utilise Baye’s Theorem to help validate historical data.

Yet this field is really at its beginning. There are tremendous opportunities for newcomers to develop and apply this science to help sustain human society and improve quality of life. I  encourage readers to get involved and bring their own energy and ideas to the field. To the extent the development of this science becomes successful, it will be one of the greatest advances of humanity.

Welcome to HistoryQuant

HistoryQuant strives to advance a quantitative science of history by providing relevant news, reviews and discussions. Coverage of particular persons or organizations does not imply an endorsement by or affiliation with them.