Paper on how communal ritual makes social hierarchy more effective

Our contribution to the “Special Issue on Social Learning and Cultural Evolution with Cognitive Systems“, edited by Peter Andras and James Borg, has been accepted for publication in the journal Cognitive Systems Research.

Here is the title and abstract. Clicking the title will open a pre-print version.

Modeling collective rule at ancient Teotihuacan as a complex adaptive system: Communal ritual makes social hierarchy more effective

Tom Froese and Linda R. Manzanilla

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 collective rule still remains poorly understood as well. Previously we used a computational model of this city’s hypothetical sociopolitical network to show that in principle collective rule based on communal ritual could be an effective strategy of ensuring widespread social coordination, as long as we assume that the network’s structure could be transformed via social learning and local leaders were not strongly subdivided. Here we extended this model to investigate whether increased social hierarchy could mitigate the negative effects of such strong divisions. We found a special synergy between social hierarchy and communal ritual: only their combination improved the extent of social coordination, whereas the introduction of centralization and top-down influence by themselves had no effect. This finding is consistent with portrayals of the Teotihuacan elite as religious specialists serving the public good, in particular by synchronizing the city’s ritual calendar with the rhythms of the stars.

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New paper: Self-Optimization in Continuous-Time Recurrent Neural Networks

We were able to generalize the powerful self-optimization process to continuous-time neural networks, the class of neural networks most used by evolutionary robotics.

Self-Optimization in Continuous-Time Recurrent Neural Networks

Mario Zarco and Tom Froese

A recent advance in complex adaptive systems has revealed a new unsupervised learning technique called self-modeling or self-optimization. Basically, a complex network that can form an associative memory of the state configurations of the attractors on which it converges will optimize its structure: it will spontaneously generalize over these typically suboptimal attractors and thereby also reinforce more optimal attractors—even if these better solutions are normally so hard to find that they have never been previously visited. Ideally, after sufficient self-optimization the most optimal attractor dominates the state space, and the network will converge on it from any initial condition. This technique has been applied to social networks, gene regulatory networks, and neural networks, but its application to less restricted neural controllers, as typically used in evolutionary robotics, has not yet been attempted. Here we show for the first time that the self-optimization process can be implemented in a continuous-time recurrent neural network with asymmetrical connections. We discuss several open challenges that must still be addressed before this technique could be applied in actual robotic scenarios.

Psychological study on chaos control

Dobri Dotov and I have published an extended abstract in the Proceedings of the Artificial Life Conference 2018 about the study that he realized at UNAM. We suggest that the results have implications for how we should think about how to stabilize the behavior of complex adaptive systems with which we can interact.

We will present this work at the ALIFE conference in Tokyo as part of the special session on “ALife and Society: Transcending the artificial-natural divide”.

Mutual synchronization and control between artificial chaotic system and human

Dobromir Dotov and Tom Froese

Dexterous assistive devices constitute one of the frontiers for hybrid human-machine systems. Manipulating unstable systems requires task-specific anticipatory dynamics. Learning this dynamics is more difficult when tasks, such as carrying liquid or riding a horse, produce unpredictable, irregular patterns of feedback and have hidden dimensions not projected as sensory feedback. We addressed the issue of coordination with complex systems producing irregular behaviour, with the assumption that mutual coordination allows for non-periodic processes to synchronize and in doing so to become regular. Chaos control gives formal expression to this: chaos can be stabilized onto periodic trajectories provided that the structure of the driving input takes into account the causal structure of the controlled system.

Can we learn chaos control in a sensorimotor task? Three groups practiced an auditory-motor synchronization task by matching their continuously sonified hand movements to sonified tutors: a sinusoid served as a Non-Interactive Predictable tutor (NIP), a chaotic system stood for a Non-Interactive Unpredictable tutor (NI-U), and the same system weakly driven by the participant’s movement stood for an Interactive Unpredictable tutor (I-U). We found that synchronization, dynamic similarity, and causal interaction increased with practice in I-U. Our findings have implications for current efforts to find more adequate ways of controlling complex adaptive systems.

UNISON

Talk at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology

Next week I will present the latest installment of our model-based research into the social organization of ancient Teotihuacan at this year’s Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Here is the title and abstract:

A network model of co-rulership and community ritual in Teotihuacan: From neighborhoods to districts

Tom Froese and Linda R. Manzanilla

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 a powerful dynasty of rulers, such as a royal tomb, keep coming away empty-handed. However, the alternative possibility of a corporate or collective government, perhaps headed by a small number of co-rulers, also remains poorly understood. A third option is that the city’s collective government begun as a fully decentralized network of neighborhood representatives, but this kind of arrangement seems susceptible to the problems of cooperation and action coordination. 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 (Froese, Gershenson, and Manzanilla 2014). Here we extend this model to investigate whether centralized hierarchy could mitigate the negative effects of strong divisions. The new results reveal a peculiar synergy between hierarchy and community ritual in that only their combination improved the extent of coordination, which is consistent with portrayals of the elite as religious specialists serving the public.

Editor-in-Chief of Adaptive Behavior

After many years of service to the community, Ezequiel Di Paolo​ has stepped down as the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Adaptive Behavior.

I will take over the reins from the current issue onward.

It’s going to be a tough act to follow, but I hope that I will be able to further consolidate the journal as a truly interdisciplinary forum for current research in the mind sciences.

For more information, please read the editorial we co-authored to mark this transition.

Please consider sending us your latest work! 🙂

Talk at event on Mazatec culture

Carte - Final, Jornada MazatecaOn the 5th of June there will be an event on “Mazatec culture, shamanism and sacred plants” at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos, Mexico.

I have been invited as one of the speakers and my presentation will be about the latest research on the psychological effects of the use of sacred mushrooms.

The title is: “Nuevos estudios sobre los efectos psicológicos de los hongos sagrados: Neurociencia y modelación”.

I propose that we can better understand the latest neuroscientific results about altered brain function, especially related to increased levels of entropy, from the perspective of complex systems theory.

Talk at the Society for American Archaeology

Next week I am scheduled to give a talk during the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which will take place April 15-19 in San Francisco. Title and abstract are as follows:

Can government be self-organized? A mathematical model of the collective social organization of ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese, Carlos Gershenson, and Linda R. Manzanilla

Pyramid of the Feathered SerpentTeotihuacan was the first extensive 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 still widely believed that its origin and growth was controlled by a dynastic lineage of powerful individuals.

However, much data is indicative of a government of co-rulers, and artistic traditions expressed an egalitarian ideology while deemphasizing individuals. Yet this heterarchical alternative keeps being marginalized because the problems of collective action, such as the tragedy of the commons, make it difficult to conceive how such a coalition could have functioned even in principle. We therefore devised a simplified mathematical model of the city’s hypothetical network of neighborhood representatives, serving as a proof of concept that widespread cooperation was realizable in a fully distributed manner.

In the model, political decisions become self-organized into globally optimal consensuses, even though local representatives always behave and modify relations in a rational and selfish manner. The network’s self-optimization of connectivity crucially depends on occasional communal interruptions of normal activity, and becomes impeded when groups are too independent. We relate these insights to theories about community rituals at Teotihuacan and the city’s eventual disintegration.

Article: Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies

The latest issue of The Journal of Sociocybernetics has just been released. It includes a contribution that arose from this year’s collaboration with my Colombian colleagues. I thank the many Colombian archaeologists and anthropologists who kindly took the time to meet with us and who provided many helpful comments and insights.

Computational Aspects of Ancient Social Heterarchies: Learning how to Address Contemporary Global Challenges

Nathalie Mezza-Garcia, Tom Froese, Nelson Fernández

As hierarchically and centrally controlled computational systems, contemporary political systems have limitations in their information processing and action capacities to face the current social crises and challenges. In contrast, some older cultures whose political structure was more heterarchically organized, such as found in pre-Hispanic Colombia, were adaptive even without advanced scientific knowledge and without powerful top-down control. In this context, we propose that creating and analyzing computer models of their decentralized processes of management can provide a broader perspective on the possibilities of political organization. In terms of self-optimization, this approach seeks the promotion of social systems with a balance of flexibility and robustness, i.e., systems that do not rely on the current ideal of rule-based control of all systemic aspects.

Tayrona vessel
Vessel produced by the Tayrona in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta between 900 and 1600 AD showing a ritual scene. (Photo courtesy of Museo de Oro, Bogotá)