From collective government to communal inebriation

This week I will be giving a talk at the 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, which will take place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 10-14.

From collective government to communal inebriation in ancient Teotihuacan, Central Mexico

Tom Froese

A simulation model of Teotihuacan’s hypothetical collective government has shown that a highly distributed network of leaders could have been effective at ensuring social coordination in the city by means of consensus formation. The model makes a strong prediction: it indicates that this collective mode of government would have been most effective in combination with large-scale communal rituals, especially rituals involving strong alterations of normal mental functioning. These communal rituals could have allowed the sociopolitical network as a whole to escape from the suboptimal behavioral configurations that otherwise tend to result from the interactions between self-interested individuals. In line with this prediction, recently there has been a growing recognition of the existence of communal rituals involving inebriation, even to the point of vomiting and loss of motor control. The current consensus holds that these rituals are based on a mildly alcoholic beverage made from maguey, today known as pulque. However, in accordance with the model’s strong prediction and based on iconographic and ethnographic evidence, I propose that in some cases the beverage was made more potent with the addition of powerful mind-altering substances, in particular delirium-inducing plants from the genus Datura, today known as toloache.

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New article: Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics

This is the latest installment in my efforts to show that there is nothing mysterious about the possibility that some mental processes are realized by more than one individual.

Embodied Dyadic Interaction Increases Complexity of Neural Dynamics: A Minimal Agent-Based Simulation Model

Madhavun Candadai, Matt Setzler, Eduardo J. Izquierdo and Tom Froese

The concept of social interaction is at the core of embodied and enactive approaches to social cognitive processes, yet scientifically it remains poorly understood. Traditionally, cognitive science had relegated all behavior to being the end result of internal neural activity. However, the role of feedback from the interactions between agent and their environment has become increasingly important to understanding behavior. We focus on the role that social interaction plays in the behavioral and neural activity of the individuals taking part in it. Is social interaction merely a source of complex inputs to the individual, or can social interaction increase the individuals’ own complexity?

Here we provide a proof of concept of the latter possibility by artificially evolving pairs of simulated mobile robots to increase their neural complexity, which consistently gave rise to strategies that take advantage of their capacity for interaction. We found that during social interaction, the neural controllers exhibited dynamics of higher-dimensionality than were possible in social isolation. Moreover, by testing evolved strategies against unresponsive ghost partners, we demonstrated that under some conditions this effect was dependent on mutually responsive co-regulation, rather than on the mere presence of another agent’s behavior as such. Our findings provide an illustration of how social interaction can augment the internal degrees of freedom of individuals who are actively engaged in participation.

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.