Lab

Past Present Sustainability Research Unit (PAES)

About the lab

PAES focuses on understanding the ecological and climate related interlinkages with human activities in the present day and in the long-term historic past. The research perspective is from natural sciences and is enriched by interdisciplinary Post-docs and collaborations outside the core discipline. We aim for more transdisciplinary research efforts to be able to evaluate potential future pathways for society at large.

Featured research (2)

This article combines insights from ecological rationality and cultural evolution to illustrate how simple heuristics – colloquially, “rules of thumb” – have guided human behaviour and the evolution of complex cultures. Through a variety of examples and case studies, we discuss how human cultures have used rules of thumb in domains as diverse as foraging, resource management, social learning, moral judgment, and cultural niche construction. We propose four main arguments. Firstly, we argue that human societies have a rich cultural history in applying rules of thumb to guide daily activities and social organization. Second, we emphasise how rules of thumb may be convenient units of cultural transmission and high-fidelity social learning – the backbones of cumulative cultural evolution. Third, we highlight how rules of thumb can facilitate efficient decision making by making use of environmental and bodily features. Fourth, we discuss how simple rules of thumb may serve as building blocks for the emergence of more complex cultural patterns. This paper sets a research agenda for studying how simple rules contribute to cultural evolution in the past, the present, and the Anthropocene future.
Historical records are incomplete templates for preparing for an uncertain future. The global utility of past ecological knowledge for present/future purposes is questioned as we move from Holocene to Anthropocene. To increase the adaptive capacity of today’s societies, generalizable strategies must be identified for coping with uncertainty over a wide range of conditions and contingencies. We identify two key principles that increase adaptive capacities: diversification and precautionary heuristics. These sharply contrast with the present global state represented by the global production ecosystem characterized by: (1) homogenization and simplification of cultural practices and resource bases; (2) increased global connectivity and forced dissolution of cultural borders; and (3) centralization and intensification of modes of resource production and extraction. We highlight that responses of smaller-scale societies to risks and uncertainties are in many cases emulated by professionals in the high reliability management in today’s critical infrastructures. This provides a modern template for managing unpredictability in the Anthropocene.

Lab head

Jussi T Eronen
Department
  • Ecosystems and Environment Research Programme
About Jussi T Eronen
  • I lead the Past Present Sustainability Research Unit (PAES) at the University of Helsinki. PAES focuses on understanding the ecological and climate related interlinkages with human activities in the present day and in the long-term historic past. The research perspective is from natural sciences and is enriched by interdisciplinary Post-docs and collaborations outside the core discipline.

Members (6)

Mikael A. Manninen
  • University of Helsinki
Sirpa Rasmus
  • University of Lapland
Taarna Valtonen
  • University of Helsinki
Maria Tuomi
  • UiT The Arctic University of Norway
Roope Kaaronen
  • University of Helsinki
Tuuli Parviainen
  • University of Helsinki
Helmi Räisänen
Helmi Räisänen
  • Not confirmed yet
Leena Valkeapää
Leena Valkeapää
  • Not confirmed yet
Ki K Nurmesniemi
Ki K Nurmesniemi
  • Not confirmed yet

Alumni (1)

Arto Miettinen
  • University of Helsinki