Updated 9 Sept. 2018 [Please refresh your browser to make sure you get the most current version]
My historical interests largely focus on studying the links between neurobiology, shifting communications systems, and the evolution of thought — involving processes that can be simulated in intelligent agent computer models.
I'm also involved with a number of biological and medical colleagues via the Systems Biology Group, based in Palo Alto, California, in studying the connections between the evolution of thought and systems biology more generally — and in related studies of cultural drivers of chronic inflammation and diseases of early development and aging. For a brief biography of me at the Systems Biology Group, go here.
Papers in preparation or submitted (including a major review of systems biology and translational medicine with the evolutionary biologist Ulrich Kutschera, of the University of Kassel, Germany, and others).
Steve Farmer, Ulrich Kutschera, et al. The inflammatory model of chronic disease: Evolutionary strategies to prevent or reverse diseases of aging and early development. One key part of the paper describes a novel test of chronic inflammation that can be used to guide the prevention and reversal of serious non-communicable diseases from early childhood to extreme old age. The paper will go to press later in 2018.
Steve Farmer: Myths of global disaster in the early Anthropocene: Neurobiological, historical, and ecological perspectives. Lessons for the modern world. Prepared for the 12th Annual Conference of the International Association for Comparative Mythology (IACM), on which I've served on the board of directors since 2006.
We're holding our conference this year in Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan — the location of a long series of closely linked environmental disasters in 2011 — including a massive earthquake, tsunami, and the devastating destruction of the nearby Fukashima nuclear power plants. We've held other conferences elsewhere in Japan and in China, Russia, France, Beijing, Armenia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Scotland, the Netherlands, and the US (at Harvard) in the last decade.
Evolution and Diseases of Civilization: Surviving in a World of Lethal Foods, Toxic Medicines, and Inflammatory Lifestyles. A popular book on the inflammatory model of disease that our research group has developed over the last four years.
Brains and history: The evolution of thought. Integrates in popular form the conclusions of my studies of cultural neurobiology. This book has long been on a back burner due to my broader work in systems biology, but I hope to return to it soon.
in the West: Pico's 900 theses (1486). The book approaches one of the strangest Latin texts
ever written as a case study of how premodern religious,
cosmological systems evolved in manscript traditions.
Important parts of the brain-culture model I developed in later
studies can be traced to my early work of this extreme syncretic
these links, and suggestions of how the evolution of these systems can be
studied in computer models, see the text and notes in that book's Theoretical Conclusions,
pp. 91-6. Links to articles and working papers on this
modeling can be found in other sections below.
• • • • •One partial list of some of my talks on papers on the evolution of premodern myth and related topics.
Lecture at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, 8-10 June 2017: Brain-Culture networks and political mythologies: The rebirth of hypernationalism in biological perspectives
Paper delivered at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic, 26-28 May 2016. Steve Farmer, Yoga Traditions and Comparative Mythologies: Ongoing Revolutions in Yoga History. (Click for Long Abstract.)
Paper delivered at Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland, 11 June 2015. Steve Farmer, Talking with the Gods: Neurobiology, Auditory-Visual Hallucinations, and the Evolution of Premodern Myths, Religions, and Philosophies. (Click for Long Abstract.)
Invited Lecture, University of Miami at Ohio, 21 November 2014. Steve Farmer, Brains, Networks, and the Evolution of Human Thought.
Paper given at the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, Yerevan, Armenia, 25 May 2014. Steve Farmer, Brain Research and Global Mythologies. (.Click for Abstract.)
Invited Lecture at Columbia University, 25 September 2012. Steve Farmer, Neurobiology and Manuscript Cultures: The Evolution of Premodern Religious and Cosmological Systems. (Click for Abstract.)
Lecture at the University of Strasbourg, France, 9 October 2011. Steve Farmer, Twisted Tales: Spurious Claims of Postural Yoga in Ancient India. (Click for long abstract.) Mainly fictional accounts of the origins of yoga are used in the paper to discuss common problems in studies of comparative mythology in general and premodern India in particular.
Lecture at Harvard University, 8 October 2010. Steve Farmer and Michael Witzel, Indus Valley Fantasies: Political Mythologies, Academic Careerism, and the Poverty of Indus Studies. (Click for long abstract.) The title "Indus Valley Fantasies" is reserved for a book on distortions of ancient history promoted by right-wing Indian nationalists and Western archaeologists and Indologists too meek to challenge them. That failure is not innocuous, given the uses these distortions serve in supporting reactionary social structures in India that affect hundreds of millions of so-called Dalits or "untouchables," etc.
• • • • •
Link to the Indo-Eurasian_Research List, which covers scholarly research on premodern Eurasia in general
The list is moderated by me (Steve Farmer, comparative history, cultural neurobiology, systems biology), Michael Witzel (Harvard: Indology, comparative mythology, linguistics), Lars Martin Fosse (Oslo: Indology, linguistics), and Benjamin Fleming (University of Pennsylvania: Indology, comparative religion). The List focuses on premodern studies globally. Core members are located in South Asia, Iran, China, Russia, Eastern and Western Europe, Australia, Japan, and the United States. The List is mainly aimed at professional researchers, but lurkers are welcome. My collaborator Michael Witzel and I began the list in 2004.
Below is a list of some my top article downloads.
- Steve Farmer, The neurobiological origins of primitive religion: Implications for comparative mythology (preprint). Just appeared in October 2010 in New Perspectives on Myth (Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Conference of the International Association of Comparative Mythology, Ravenstein, The Netherlands.) Introduces the first testable neurobiological model of the origins of religion and includes an historical overview of earlier naturalistic models.
S Farmer et al. Simulating the Past and Predicting the Future: Brain-Culture Networks and the Evolution of Thought. The paper deals with how brain-culture networks have been transformed by demographic forces and innovations in communications from the first extensive appearance of external symbols ca. 50,000 years ago through the present information revolution.
- Steve Farmer, Neurobiology, stratified texts, and the evolution of thought: From myths to religions and philosophies (Harvard and Peking University International Conference on Comparative Mythology, Bejing. A slightly revised version of this paper (unfortunately omitting the abstract) appeared in 2009 in Cosmos (Edinburgh, pub. date given as 2006). The paper traces the evolution of my work from traditional comparative history to cultural neurobiology over the last two decades and includes a capsule summary of simulations of how traditional religious and philosophical systems arose over long periods. Tests of the brain-culture model developed in the paper are proposed that include the so-called Indus script and newly discovered Chinese tomb texts.
spurious recent claims by Rao et
al., see next item.
- Steve Farmer, Richard Sproat, and Michael Wizel, A refutation of the claimed refutation of the nonlinguistic nature of Indus symbols: Invented data sets in the statistical paper of Rao et al. (Science, 2009). See also the technical plots and discussion, with links to other deadly critiques of Rao et al. by leading computational linguists, at more on Rao. Later claims by Rao et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS] that Markov models suggest that Indus symbols were supposedly part of an ancient writing system are similarly trivial to debunk: crude structure in the absurdly short groups of Indus symbols (averaging if all relevant materials were included far under 4.5 signs per supposed "text") has been known since the 1920s and is a feature of all symbol systems -- not as Rao et al. oddly claim only those that encode language. (We discussed this long before Rao's work in Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel 2004 [pp. 20ff. and n. 5 and passim] and Sproat and Farmer 2006 [esp. p. 8ff]. Cf. also Richard Sproat's rightly dismissive note on Rao's claims here). The smoke and mirrors in the work of Rao et al., which via press releases generated lots of attention in the pop press (especially in India), is discussed in further detail in an expanded version of a paper we gave at the critical Indus conference held in Kyoto, Japan, on 29-31 May 2009. For an abstract of that paper (expanded version with other conference papers to appear in early 2010), see Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel, The collapse of the Indus-script thesis, five years later: Massive nonliterate urban civilizations of ancient Eurasia. As the title suggests, the paper discusses implications of the nonlinguistic nature of Indus symbols that reach far beyond India, radically altering our views of ancient urban societies in general. It also responds to polemical attacks on our 2004 paper from Indian nationalists and researchers whose careers have heavily depended on the Indus-script myth. For more on what Indus symbols were (and weren't), see other materials in the sections below. Back to top of page.
- Steve Farmer, John B. Henderson, and Michael Witzel, Neurobiology, layered texts, and correlative cosmologies: A cross-cultural framework for premodern history, Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities 72 (2000 [written and published 2002]): 48-89. The first published paper to seriously link neurobiology and the evolution of religious and philosophical traditions, in a cross-cultural study of so-called correlative systems (in China), bandhus or upanishads (in India), and systems of correspondence (in the West). Hence the collaboration of one Western specialist, one Chinese specialist, and one specialist on premodern India and in writing the paper. The first suggestion that the Indus civilization was not literate was a direct prediction of the model developed in the paper (see the later sections on tests of the model).
- Steve Farmer, John B. Henderson, Michael Witzel, and Peter Robinson, Computer models of the evolution of premodern religious, philosophical, and cosmological systems. (Online adjunct of the article in the Bulletin of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities noted above, 2002.) Discusses computer simulations of the rise and fall of emergent self-similar structures (multilayered mirroring cosmologies, scholastic hierarchies, Neo-Platonic and Neo-Confucian systems, etc.) that evolved globally in key premodern types of textual traditions. Far more sophisticated intelligent-agent network simulations extending the methods discussed here are being planned using the cultural modeling software developed by the Cultural Modeling Research Group.
- Steve Farmer, John B. Henderson, and Peter Robinson, Commentary traditions and the evolution of premodern religious and philosophical systems: A cross-cultural model. This working paper, updated most recently in 2002, is based on a lecture that the Sinologist John Henderson and I gave at the University of Heidelberg in 1997. The paper presented our earliest theoretical views of how multilayered hierarchies and other scholastic structures were shaped cross-culturally in textual traditions. The framework is provided by mathematical models of nonlinear dissipative systems. Some but not all of the data here show up the two papers noted above. See also from my 1998 book on Pico, theoretical conclusions (especially the notes on those pages), also written in this period.
- Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer, Horseplay in Harappa: The Indus Valley decipherment hoax, [cover story] Frontline 17 (19) (13 Oct. 2000): 4-11. For more links on this infamous story of the connections between the extreme Hindu rightwing (the Hindutva movement) and the myth of the so-called Indus script, see other papers noted below. This paper has been downloaded several million times since its first publication; it is widely used in university classes on modern Indian politics.
- Steve Farmer, The first Harappan forgery: Indus inscriptions in the nineteenth century (2003). A short essay on the origins of the Indus-script thesis, which prominent Western researchers slipped in through the back door (along with a lot of fudged evidence) in the 1870s and 1880s. Must reading for would-be 'decipherers'.
- Richard Sproat and Steve Farmer, Morphology and the Harappan Gods. In Inquiries into Words, Constraints and Contexts. Festschrift in the Honour of Kimmo Koskenniemi on His 60th Birthday. Preprint bound presentation version, Saarij”vi, Finland, 2005. Online publication CSLI Studies in Computational Linguistics, Stanford University, 2006. See the last part of the article on structure in the so-called Indus script (which is no different from the kinds of structure found in many other types of non-linguistic symbol systems).
• • • • •
Another list of lectures on a some of the topics mentioned above.
Public discussion in the popular press (often quoting people whose whole careers or nationalist views are intimately entwined with the Indus-script myth) has been so distorted, in 2004-5 we added the links in the box below for fun. Our "One Sentence Refutation" is totally valid, but it is only one of a dozen or so arguments, others far more formal, that can be used to debunk the script myth. (No one will ever collect our $10,000 prize, which one of these days we'll raise to $100,000 or more without losing sleep):
- Sixth Harvard University Indology Roundtable, 8 May 2004. The mythological functions of Indus inscriptions: Eight conclusions arising from the nonlinguistic model of Indus symbols. 3.6 meg pdf including many slides. Introduces new data, some still unpublished, on the magical origins, later ritual, administrative, and political uses, and sudden disappearance of the Indus symbols. Also gives prima facie evidence of human sacrifice in the Indus Valley. (We know for sure it was there but know little yet of its scale. I've repeatedly made suggestions at conferences, most recently this past May, as to where to dig, but no one has taken those suggestions up yet, in part because of security problems at the Harappan site [in Pakistan]).
2.5. Fifth Harvard University Indology Roundtable, 10 May 2003. Five cases of 'dubious writing' in Indus inscriptions (1.6 megs). Working paper that presents the first detailed evidence that the Indus symbols did not encode speech. The statistical arguments developed here are now superceded by materials presented in Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel 2004; but much of the data here even now remains unpublished.Additional background materials on the so-called Indus script .
The following papers on extreme Hindu nationalist manipulations of ancient history are all related to the famous 'Horseplay in Harappa' incident (2000).
- Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer, Horseplay in Harappa: The Indus Valley Decipherment Hoax, [cover story] Frontline 17 (19) (13 Oct. 2000): 4-11. Widely read in university classes. At the time Michael and I wrote this, we hadn't yet entirely rejected the old script model; hence the discussion of the "direction of writing"in a sidebar story. On that topic, which we know now is a non-issue (nonlinguistic symbols don't necessarily have a fixed "reading" order), see the important and often overlooked footnote 5 in our 2004 paper (Collapse of the Indus-script thesis).Miscellaneous (Renaissance studies).