What Are We Not Asking Symposium:
Proposal by Hobson
The extreme social complexity of human groups is a fundamental feature that differentiates human sociality from animals, but despite long-standing interest, the evolution of social complexity is still poorly understood. Most studies use a bottom-up measure, where social complexity is contained within the number, type, or strength of dyadic relationships in groups. However, this perspective loses a lot of the complexity of social structures. Re-integration of core tenants of complex systems thinking, such as ideas about emergent behavior, feedback loops, and compression of information between scales, could cause a re-thinking about how animal social complexity is approached and measured. Rather than using a bottom-up measure, which focuses exclusively on the structure of local social interactions, I instead propose an integrated feedback loop as a way to bridge between local and global properties of sociality, where individual actions both create the group’s social world and can then be influenced by these social structures. Through explicitly incorporating complex systems concepts, this new approach circumvents many previous shortfalls in understanding and quantifying social complexity and provides new potential for broad comparative analyses to better understand the evolution of complex sociality.