The Khaldun Wave: Interdisciplinary Forecasting of Historic Trends and Thresholds
The queen of interdisciplinary studies might be historiography, for the lessons it draws from systematic comparisons of past experience. An early historian in this tradition was Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), a counselor to rulers in Spain and North Africa, later a high magistrate in Cairo, but always a historian in search of deeper patterns and causes, beyond a chronology of dynasties. He used the lens of scientific method and skeptical criticism to test his own inductive theories, and spent a lifetime debriefing travelers from all corners of the known world. Khaldun’s method planted the seeds of several later disciplines — economics, sociology, political science — but his greatest contribution was a detailed analysis of internal forces of metamorphosis driving civilizations as they mature, starting with daring initiatives but ending in extravagant infrastructures that can no longer support their own weight. Civilizations follow an accelerating upward curve, to a plummeting collapse. This is “the Khaldun wave.”
Khaldun’s historiography is a form of general systems theory; recently, similarly, we now see chaos/complexity theory used to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, time-trend curves as are part of our everyday language to graphically depict dynamic change over time — business performance, progress in warfare, evaluation of social interventions. The Arabs excelled in algebra, but could not express those dynamic relationships in graphic curves, which were Descartes’s 17th century contribution. This paper takes Khaldun’s theory of civilizations’ rise and fall, and translates it into the graphic format of non-linear curves. Specifically, we look at seven curves, aimed at helping our own generation to debate more clearly where we are headed, what is at stake, and what we can do about it, building on Khaldun’s remarkable insights from 600 years ago about the relevance of other ages and civilizations to our own.
Keywords: Historiography, Civilization, Social Change, Ibn Khaldun, Trend Forecasts, Complexity Theory
Dr. Barclay Hudson
Faculty, School of Human and Organizational Development, Fielding Graduate University