New England Complex Systems Institute
238 Main Street Suite 319, Cambridge, MA 02142
Phone: 617-547-4100 Fax: 617-661-7711
Conflicts between ethnic, religious and cultural groups claim many thousands of lives every year and displace and cause suffering to millions. Using complex systems concepts, NECSI has developed a mathematical model that can predict where violence is likely to occur based upon the spatial distribution of populations. According to this model, when different groups are well mixed, or are well separated violence is unlikely to occur. Violence is likely when groups are partially separated and therefore overlap in their domains of desired authority. This approach has been tested on the former Yugoslavia and India with the ability to predict the distance to violence with 90% or better correlation. Social and economic factors are important in violence, still, our model shows that the distribution of the population can be the underlying condition that fosters conflict and violence. Our work can inform policy makers that strive to anticipate or prevent ethnic violence.
NECSI's ethnic violence research demonstrates an overall approach to understanding social behaviors based upon the collective patterns of human interactions. This is a real world version of Isaac Asimov's "Psychohistory" --- the science of understanding how groups of individuals interact. While specific concepts that Asimov developed are not necessarily valid, the idea that such a science can exist has now been demonstrated. Many people feel that human freedom requires unpredictability, however, to understand how group behavior can lead to violence is an important opportunity to intervene in critical problems of the human condition.
We are hopeful that our work will help enable relief of the severe problems of dislocation, suffering and tragic death that accompanies etnic, cultural and religious conflict.
Please see the links below for more information
A. Gros, A.S. Gard-Murray, Y. Bar-Yam Conflict in Yemen: From Ethnic Fighting to Food Riots. arXiv:1207.5778, July 24, 2012. view PDF
A. Rutherford, D. Harmon, J. Werfel, S. Bar-Yam, A.S. Gard-Murray, A. Gros, Y. Bar-Yam, Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence. PLOS (May 21, 2014). [PDF]