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Past and Future Settlements

Contributed by / March 2, 2015


I had the pleasure of attending the Para Limes Annual Conference – Emerging Patterns at the Nanyang Technological University today and thought it would be nice to share some thoughts on the talks by the brilliant speakers.

 

Professor Roland Fletcher shared on the topic of “The Structure of Emerging Cultural Patterns: 100,000BP to Present” (pardon me if I misinterpreted or misrepresented any part of his talk). One of the interesting point he made was that over the past hundred thousand years four major cultural transformations have occurred in human settlement patterns with each settlement getting bigger and that the next major transformation (if it happens) would probably be even bigger in terms of settlement size of somewhere around 10,000 sq km or more and in compact population density of somewhere around 300 people/ha or more.

 

Of the four major transformations three are more familiar to us, i.e. the development of sedentary communities, sometime after around 10,000 years ago; the formation of agrarian-based urbanism after around 5000 years ago; and the most recent, the formation of industrial-based urbanism in the past two hundred years.

 Early Sedentary Community

Agriculture in Ancient Egypt

Agriculture in Ancient China

 

Another interesting point of his talk was the notion of “type Fossils” as the prerequisites i.e. the operational requirements which must come together as sets of material characteristics to enable major transitions in  settlement size to occur. An interesting phenomenon of prerequisites is that they are often not recognized prior to the transition nor invented for the same purpose as it will be serving in the new settlement. In other words no one see it coming!

 

Ancient Calculator – Antikythera mechanism, around 150 BC

 

Ancient Tablet

 

During the questions and answers session a big part was on the discussion about what or how this next major transition in settlement size and its associated prerequisites will be like. It seems to most people that it is quite an unimaginable scenario (and an unpleasant one!) to have such large settlement size in highly compact human density. Indeed it will be unimaginable and unpleasant if we only considered humans as the essential inhabitants of the settlement and that humans and humans interaction and social construct essentially remained the same as today. If we take a step back and consider for a moment in more general term all the potential decision makers beside humans that play a role in a settlement, we may find the missing part of the puzzle or pattern. In the past settlements we only considered human as decision makers as they were the only qualified candidates. However today we are already witnessing a subtle emergent of the increasing roles that computers, artificial intelligence and robots are playing in everyday lives and in shaping the world that humans and other kinds will co-inhabit. One day they will play essential roles in our society, not just at functional and operational level, but also at decision making level. Some may argue that it is already here. The transition to the next settlement level could have been ushered in, and humans are not the only essential inhabitants and decision makers. Some of the prerequisites for transition could reasonably be radio, calculators and microwave ovens or in more recent forms smartphones, computers and robots. The future is not just about humans. Did you see it coming?

 

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  1. Avatar of HJ
    HJ March 2, 2015, 11:48 pm

    Beside increased in settlement size and population density accompanying major transition of human settlement, decreased in time for information gathering, formulation and communication was alluded as another facet of the transition by Professor Roland. I would further suggest that the order of magnitude of the time factor for the industrial-based urbanism transition is of the order of around 10 to the power of 1 to 3; for the agrarian-based urbanism transition around 10 to the power of 4 to 6; and for the sedentary communities around 10 to the power of 7 to 9. The latter taking years and even generations.

    More interesting I would postulate that the time factor for information gathering, formulation and communication between decision makers in a settlement for the next transition is around 10 to the power of -2 to 0. That’s roughly the time taken at the neural circuit and digital communication level.