Philosophy

The groups involved in SimulPast include specialists from the Social Sciences and Humanities (Archaeologists, Anthropologists and Sociologists) and the Formal Sciences (Mathematicians, Logicians and Computer Scientists), as well as a number of interdisciplinary profiles linked to the Natural Sciences (e.g. Ethnoecologists, Archaeobotanists, Geoarchaeologists and Palaeogeographers). These groups are all characterised by their transdisciplinary perspective and have a long experience of collaborating with specialists from different domains.

The Social Sciences and Humanities teams share a common methodological approach and common objectives. They are interested in analysing major social processes rather than specific historical events, and consider that these processes should be studied in different areas and periods of time. This is the reason why, despite their diversity, all the case studies focus on understanding human societies and emphasise topics such as the importance of social interactions and adaptation, resource availability, innovation, resilience, and the role of the environment. These teams also consider that the scientific approach is the best suited to raise these questions and that human societies should be studied using the same techniques and methods as those used to study other biological societies. Teams from the Social Sciences and Humanities are involved in long-term archaeological field projects, during which they have acquired large and well-defined datasets, which could be used to propose and verify models through simulation.

Social and environmental transitions represent key aspects to better understand human behaviour. From a complex systems perspective, the most decisive questions about human societal systems are related to the transitions between phases of equilibrium. Therefore, the study of these transitions is extremely interesting in order to move forward with our current understanding of human behaviour at macro, meso and micro-level. In that respect, ancient societies present a great opportunity to build a virtual laboratory in which to model, explore and simulate different hypotheses and theories about social and environmental transitions.

Specialists in artificial intelligence, complex systems, computational reasoning and simulation techniques that compose the SimulPast Formal Sciences groups showed a strong interest in developing this challenging approach. Their teams have long considered that many of the techniques, which they were using in non-human contexts, could be applied to the Social Sciences and Humanities. They also agree that Archaeology is particularly well suited for modelling and simulation. It is a data oriented subject, with a strong focus on the collection of objective material data for the study of past human societies. Furthermore, it is a discipline which has a long tradition of attempting to bridge the divide between the Social Sciences and Humanities on one side and the Natural and Formal Sciences on the other. Finally, it deals with events in the past and therefore provides the possibility of comparing the results of a given simulation with the facts that are known to have occurred.

The philosophy on which SimulPast is based is thus truly transdisciplinary, evading the traditional division that sees the Humanities and Social Sciences and the often-called “Hard Sciences” as mutually impermeable areas of knowledge. Transdisciplinarity (Nicolescu 2002) connotes a research strategy that crosses many disciplinary boundaries to create a holistic approach and uses a research effort focused on problems that traverse the boundaries of two or more disciplines. Disciplinary research concerns, at most, one and the same level of subject area. On the contrary, transdisciplinarity concerns the dynamics engendered by the action of several levels of subject areas at once. At the same time, transdisciplinarity is nourished by disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, making these areas complementary.

We are aware that transdisciplinary approaches often fail because of the difficulties that specialists have in understanding other disciplines and in transmitting knowledge from their own domain to scholars with a different background. Indeed, specialists from the Humanities and Social Sciences often do not even consider the possibility of their research being expressed using the same language as that of the “Hard Sciences”. This is the reason why SimulPast has linked together teams with a deep understanding of transdisciplinary work, from the perspective of the Humanities, the Social Sciences and the Natural and Formal Sciences. This is also why SimulPast lays such a strong emphasis on a series of Work Packages, each of which is divided into stages, which will imply the participation of the different specialists and a continuous exchange between them.

 

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