Evolutionary processes in nature and society

The notion of evolution extends far beyond biological species. Languages change, music or fashion tastes continuously evolve, civilizations emerge, prosper and go extinct, economies rise and decline, financial or societal crises come and go. A big question of scientific and public curiosity is: to what extent evolutionary processes that underlie such dramatic transformations are alike across different domains? Do the same mechanisms operate across different time scales from financial crises spanning hours to mass extinctions spanning thousands of years? Do species, economies, languages, cultures age in the same way, and could their decline ever be predictable?

These questions on how evolutionary processes compare in nature and society have great societal implications for the long run. Epidemics, financial crises, climate disasters and military conflicts rise suddenly and change common ways of living. What policies should and can be adopted for the long run? How to prevent and manage crises? How to balance resources?

 In this three-year project funded by Kone Foundation these questions will be investigated by a team of seven PIs covering computer science, evolutionary biology and palaeontology, economics, linguistics and history. As the world is changing at unprecedented rates, we can no longer hope to learn in a meaningful way how the world is at any given time, since by the time we learn, the world has already changed. We need a process-level understanding of how to think about the rapidly changing world, and how to think about the signs of change that we can observe.