Our Research & Initiatives
Sky Meadow Institute is dedicated to advancing complexity-based thinking about the things that matter most...
To that end, research conducted through the Institute aims to analyze human meaning-making through the lens of complexity and complexification. How, over the course of human evolution and millennia of social development, has thinking changed about matters of "ultimate concern" (to use a phrase coined by existentialist theologian Paul Tillich)?
This is the orienting inquiry of The DISCERE Project, the Institute's long-term, multi-phase research endeavor. "DISCERE" stands for "Data Investigating Social Complexification and the Evolution of Religious Expression." Using the construct of "hierarchical complexity" from neo-Piagetian learning theory, the Project is analyzing religious and philosophical texts from antiquity to the present in an effort to identify macro-level trends in conceptual complexification.
Phase I of the Project (currently underway) is beginning by examining the so-called "Axial Age" transformation in human thought in terms of cognitive complexification. As scholars like Karl Jaspers, Jurgen Habermas, Robert Bellah, and Karen Armstrong have suggested, the mid-first millennium BCE seems to represent a profound pivot-point in human culture, when archaic human meaning systems underwent a systemic reconfiguration in a manner that would see the birth of the traditional world religions. This transformation in thought has tended to be framed in cognitive terms, as the product of learning processes. The Project will test this hypothesis using the construct of hierarchical complexity, subjecting Axial Age religious texts to computer analysis in order to produce quantifiable complexity scores for cross-cultural comparison. Phase II will round out this picture by comparing such findings to oral traditions such as would have predominated in the Neolithic in an effort to identify the qualitative and quantitative shifts in meaning-making that characterized the transition to early agricultural empires. Finally, Phase III will complete the effort by turning to the post-Axial period, scoring texts from the modern and postmodern periods.
The Project stands to make a significant contribution to metamodern sociology by offering quantitative data for the comparison and systemic relating of perspectives from across human history. Such an endeavor is the first of its kind, made possible only recently by the advance in computer scoring technology.
Dempsey, B. G. (2024) Measuring Hierarchical Complexity in the Pentateuch. Preprint, submitted February 18, http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4715234.
Dempsey, B. G. (2024) Conceptual Complexification in the Axial Age: A Comparative Study. Working Paper, Sky Meadow Institute, Stannard, VT. Forthcoming.