International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan

It has been 5 years since I moved to Mexico to create a computational model of the sociopolitical organization of ancient Teotihuacan. I am happy to report that this project has matured. I am involved in the organization of the International Symposium on the Sociopolitical Organization of Teotihuacan, which will bring together the world’s leading experts working on this topic.


At the symposium I will I gave talk on the latest results of the model. The title and abstract are as follows:

A computational model of Teotihuacan’s collective government: New insights into role of the city’s division into districts

Tom Froese

Experts remain divided about the nature of the sociopolitical system of ancient Teotihuacan, which was one of the earliest and largest urban civilizations of the Americas. Excavations hoping to find compelling evidence of powerful rulers, such as a royal tomb, keep coming away empty-handed. But the alternative possibility of a corporate or collective government still remains poorly understood. There is a lack of evidence of a powerful bureaucracy, such as durable record keeping, but a decentralized network limited to the level of neighborhood representatives seems susceptible to problems of collective action.

Previously we used a computational model to show that in principle this latter worry is unfounded, as long as we assume that the network’s topology could be transformed via community rituals and was not strongly subdivided. Here we extend this model to investigate whether increased social hierarchy could mitigate the negative effects of strong divisions. We found a special synergy between hierarchy and community ritual in that only their combination improved the extent of cooperation, which is consistent with portrayals of the elite as religious specialists serving the public good and with the apparent absence of extensive secular institutions.

Current work is investigating whether a reduction in the city’s number of districts could reduce the necessity for this kind of centralized hierarchy.

Philosophy events at UOW

Today we will have a workshop on “The Origins and Nature of Contentful Minds: Continuity, Transformation, Integration?” in the University of Wollongong’s Research Hub, Building 19 – Room 2072. The program can be downloaded here.

My contribution is entitled: “Does the evolved apprentice model remain in the zone of latent solutions?”

Then from Wednesday to Friday there will be the 2016 UOW Philosophy Training Conference, where I will give an invited talk with the title “Hallucinations: Inner fictions, outer realities, or something in between?”

Understanding complexity

posterThe prestigious Colegio Nacional of Mexico is holding a two-day event on complexity and interdisciplinarity “Entendiendo la complejidad: La multidisciplina en las ciencias“, September 27-28.

The event is open to the public and will be broadcast live.

I was invited to give a talk about my research as a member of the Centro de Ciencias de la Complejidad.

The title of my talk is “La organización política de Teotihuacan como sistema complejo”, and is scheduled to start tomorrow at 18:15.

The full program can be found here.

Talk on History and Philosophy of Origins Research

I have been invited to give a talk at the EON Workshop on History and Philosophy of Origins Research, which will be held August 24-26 at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo.

The title and abstract of my contribution are as follows:

The concept of the individual in cognitive science and origins of life

Tom Froese

The field of cognitive science was inaugurated on the basis of the computational theory of mind. The metaphor of the digital computer had several implications: it restricted the field to understanding all of cognition in terms of the manipulation of symbols; it focused research on passive information processing; and it limited the scope of inquiry to processes taking place within the physical boundaries of the system. This concept of an individual, as a system engaged in passive internal symbol manipulation, seems to be implicitly shared by theories of the origins of life that are focused on encapsulated processing of informational molecules. Yet in cognitive science this concept of the individual has been undergoing a series of deep revisions, such that it is now replaced by its exact opposite: an individual is seen as primarily a system that is embodied, extended, and as actively engaged in direct relations with the physical and social environment. I analyze what origins of life research could learn from this shift in the history of cognitive science.

Game theoretic model of Maya warfare and the royal court

In collaboration with Roberto Ulloa we modeled the effects of Maya warfare on elite social network topology. The paper will be presented at this year’s ALIFE 2016 conference and will be published in its proceedings by MIT Press.

Nobility-targeting raids among the Classic Maya: Cooperation in scale-free networks persists under tournament attack when population size fluctuates

Roberto Ulloa and Tom Froese

Cooperation in scale-free networks has proven to be very robust against removal of randomly selected nodes (error) but highly sensitive to removal of the most connected nodes (attack). In this paper we analyze two comparable types of node removal in which the removal selection is based on tournaments where the fittest (raids) or the least fit (battles) nodes are chosen. We associate the two removals to two types of Maya warfare offences during the Classic period. During this period of at least 500 years, political leaders were able to sustain social order in spite of attack-like offences to their social networks. We present a computational model with a population fluctuation mechanism that operates under an evolutionary game theoretic approach using the Prisoner’s Dilemma as a metaphor of cooperation. We find that paradoxically battles are able to uphold cooperation under moderate levels of raids, although raids do have a strong impact on the network structure. We infer that cooperation does not depend as much on the structure as it does on the underlying mechanism that allows the network to readjust. We relate the results to the Maya Classic period, concluding that Mayan warfare by itself cannot entirely explain the Maya political collapse without appealing to other factors that increased the pressures against cooperation.


First International Conference on Language and Enaction

I have been invited as a keynote speaker to the First International Conference on Language and Enaction, which will take place June 1-3 in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

The title and abstract of my talk are as follows:

From lower to higher, from self to other: Approaching the phenomenon of language from the bottom up

Tom Froese

The enactive approach to cognitive science is currently faced by the challenge of overcoming the cognitive gap between its theories of the basic organismic mind and specifically human capacities centered on symbolic cognition. At the same time there appears to be a tension between its self-related concepts, such as autopoiesis and adaptivity, and its other-related concepts, such as participatory sense-making and languaging. I argue that these tensions can be resolved in a complementary fashion by clarifying that enactive theory does not adhere to an internalist epistemology, which can be most clearly seen in terms of its rejection of methodological individualism. Once our thinking is freed from that isolating framework it becomes evident that the enactive approach has the potential to become a fruitful paradigm for linguistics. I finish by considering its implications for language evolution, in particular regarding claims of innateness based on the assumption of the poverty of the stimulus as well as gesture-first theories.

To kick off this trip to Europe I will also give two seminars:

On May 30 I will talk about “Ritualized mind alteration and the origins of the symbolic mind: Recent insights from cognitive science” at the Collegium Helveticum in Zurich.

And on May 31 I will give a talk with the title “Can we extend the sensorimotor approach to social perception?” at Kevin O’Regan’s FEEL project lab in Paris.

Norbert Wiener and the origins of cybernetics

Following on from the special issue of Ciencia dedicated to the work of Wiener, I’ve been invited to participate in the following event, which will take place March 9 at UNAM.


Series of seminars in Prague

The Department of Contemporary Continental Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences has invited me to give a series of seminars based on my research. The details can be found in the event poster:

Froese workshop in Prague

This trip is supported by a travel grant of the “Programa de Intercambio Académico de la Coordinación de la Investigación Científica” of UNAM.

Upcoming tour of seminars in Japan

Thanks to the kind invitation of Prof. Shigeru Taguchi I will spend a week in Japan giving seminars at various institutions. The current schedule looks as follows:

  • Monday, Feb. 1: seminar on enactivism, biology of cognition, and predictive processing to be held at the Faculty of Philosophy and Cultural Sciences, Graduate School of Letters, Hokkaido University
  • Tuesday, Feb. 2: seminar on the study of social interaction at the Laboratory of Autonomous Systems Engineering, Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Hokkaido University
  • Wednesday, Feb. 3: seminar on consciousness, the hypothesis of direct perception, and the problem of other minds, also at the Graduate School of Letters, Hokkaido University
  • Friday, Feb. 5: mini-workshop on the origins of the individual and a seminar on the implications of a movement-first approach to the origins of life and the genetic system, both to be held at the Earth-Life Science Institute of the Tokyo Institute of Technology

I am looking forward to seeing Sapporo and Tokyo again soon!

81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology

Teotihuacan-style_incense_burner_depicting_a_ruler_and_his_court,_Maya,_Early_Classic_Period,_250-600_AD,_ceramic_-_Royal_Ontario_Museum_-_DSC04482This year’s Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) will take place April 6-10, in Orlando, Florida.

I will present a continuation of my ongoing project to model the collective political organization of ancient Teotihuacan in collaboration with archaeologist Linda Manzanilla.

Our contribution was invited to take place in a special session: “The Rise and Decline of Teotihuacan: Urbanism, Daily Life, and Regional Relations through Time”.

The title and abstract are as follows:

A network theoretical analysis of the emergence of co-rulership in ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese and Linda R. Manzanilla

The political organization of Teotihuacan continues to be unknown. While some researchers see evidence for a powerful centralized hierarchy, others argue for a more collective form of government. We created an abstract computer model of hypothetical social relations among neighborhood-level representatives to show that such a distributed political network could in principle have been sufficient for globally optimal decision making, as long as there are community rituals and sections of the city are not too independent (Froese, Gershenson and Manzanilla 2014). These conditions were most likely satisfied during the early periods of the city. However, there is evidence that during the final stages some neighborhood centers become more isolated and independent, and the city as a whole became organized into four districts. Our model suggests that such social fractioning would have undermined a purely horizontally organized collective government. But Manzanilla has hypothesized that four co-rulers governed the city at the district level during this period. We therefore introduced this hierarchical level into our model to verify if such a mixed organization could have addressed some of the issues associated with a fractioning of the underlying social system. We discuss our modeling results in the context of archeological evidence.

« Older entries