Social physics: Networks and causal chains

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Social physics: Networks and causal chains is the title of an invited memorial lecture in the Iberall Distinguished Lecture Series on "Life and the Sciences of Complexity" (see: Physics and Social Science and The next 500 years plus the SFI conference Is There a Physics of Society?)

Abstract/Flyer: Networks and causal chains Douglas R. White

The wonderful thing about the world is its diversity in all manner of ways — in scale, in complexity, in mechanism, in driving motivation, in its sheer richness of phenomena. We happen to be lucky enough to live on a small planet which is particularly highly diverse — let's not throw that away and say — it's all information processing. In particular — there is a tendency at the moment to reduce biology to "bioinformatics", the genome as Turing machine tape. But life is not just the genome. A thing is not living unless it is an individual, unless it has means for controlling energy and matter flows to its own advantage, and probably yet more requirements. Art Iberall may have been the first to see life in terms of overlapping cycles and functions, and Stu Kauffmann has recently expressed some of this at length. The point is, the information processing metaphor gets you nowhere unless you have the physical answer to "how?" and the motivational answer to "for what purpose?" and the mechanistic answer to "how do we do it in the right time and place?"

-- Phil Anderson, July 20, 2001, Edge: The Reality Club, Comments on “Seth Lloyd - how fast, how small, and how powerful?: Moore's law and the ultimate laptop.”

Is there a need for an Outline of a Handbook of Social Physics?


Iberall, Wilkinson and White's Foundations for Social & Biological Evolution (1993) contains twelve essays broken into two sections. The first section explores topics in social evolution, such as human sociogeophysics, long term processes in social change, and political spectroscopy. The second section presents topics in biological evolution, such as connections to geophysics, species extinction and continental erosion, how many species, and a model for the origins of life.

My research field is networks, social, economic, and political, and networks that sustain life. I am an anthropologist but identify myself as a complexity researcher. What Iberall called "chains," the channeled processes and flows that sustain life and complex systmes, and the chains of causality, are included in what I call "networks." Hence the title of this talk, which is about human social physics.

General outline

Iberall on networks and cohesion

Structural cohesion 1.0: Structural endogamies

Structural endogamy - Wikipedia:Structural endogamy
Network Analysis and Ethnographic Problems

Structural cohesion 2.0: Sociological causation

Structural cohesion - Wikipedia:Structural cohesion

Structural cohesion 3.0: Historical scale-up, reactivity and cohesive resistance

Santa Fe Institute Working Paper: Human Social Complexity (pay attention to the abstract, the Figure 1 map and Table 1 for Turchin's results)

Trade, war, and global warming

Foundations for Social & Biological Evolution provides the theme for a 500-year time perspective. The significant time interval for cultures is 200-500 years. The hefty cultures -- state polities and empires -- go out of business in this time scale. The Turchin Principle (reviewed in White 2009) s a pertinent finding: The Empires of today are those who were conquered in the past. From the perspective of a timeless present: Beware of conquest for no purpose. Those whom you conquer will be those who destroy you. In the longer run, those who win wars do not reap the benefits. Even in the shorter run, look from today's perspective at the outcome of several events: WW II, the Cold War, the Iraqi War. The Soviet Union and the U.S. won the Cold War, and the U.S.S.R. gained the territories of Eastern Europe. Germany had supported Hitler to in part because of the humiliation of W.W. I, and the Marshall Plan precluded a repetition of a post WWII warlike Germany. Eastern Europe proved the undoing of the U.S.S.R. Reagan won the Cold War but it took Russia less than a generation to reap the benefits of worldwide dominance in oil. The U.S. squandered its imperial resources and free-world leadership in the Iraq War. But if you are a biologist or ecologist, or in a host of other scientific niches dealing with complexity, Phil Anderson's comments above will resonate.

The next 500 years -

The problems we need to solve in the next few generations -- and to continue solving over the next 20 generations, i.e., 500 years, are those of trade, war, and global warming. We are rapidly heading to the extinction of human societies based on industrial technology through destructive practices that threaten to destroy the majority of species on earth. Some of the poorest cultures or nations on earth -- like Burkina Faso, the second poorest -- are those with a stable and sustainable subsistence base, and little more. Those are the kinds of places, if not necessarily those places in particular, that could survive. If you lack an anthropological understanding of human behavior it will be hard for you to understand that our complex technologies will largely be gone, in any form that we know them, like the complex technologies of early Chinese civilization.

Trade, war, and global warming

Iberall's joining of physics of biology

Hopefully, by the time of my talk, I will have reproduced parts of pages 217-219 of Foundations for Social & Biological Evolution where he responds to the challenge of joining physics of biology and where his general theory of complex systems is stated.

What I will want to note are: (1) the congruence between my discovery of structural cohesion and his use of internalizing transport measure of bulk viscosity, which relates in an interesting way to compressibility and propagation, (2) his use of the bulk modulus, and (3) similarly for shear viscosity. I would guess that the bulk viscosity coefficient refers to the extent to which a (cohesive) bulk can be compressed under pressure, and will spring out in volume when that pressure is released. That might fit with what I wrote about Turchin's asabiya response to conquest in my Encyclopedia of Complexity and Systems Science article. Lower k-cohesion might be more easily compressible with less springback. Iberall's measure of internal complexity (p. 218) is the ratio: \lambda/\mu= bulk/sheer viscosity = internal action/external (translational) action = internal time constant/external (translational) time constant

Someone needs to be clarified if these aspects of Iberall's homeokinetics (tied to his expertise in hydrodynamics and Navier-Stokes) have any clearcut application to the social sciences. My attempts to check this out with two SFI physicists didn't pan out, and similarly for his and Soodack's phase-transition ideas about the Reynolds number.

I might note on p. 166 where he joins biological evolution to geophysics and geochemistry but at his long time scales no prescience about global warming). Nontheless: "one finds the statistics of step and decay of species exhibited by Raup and the slow decay and fast rise of sea level exhibited vy Vail et al to be quite compatible" with his mixed-scale dynamics.

  • Raup, D. 1986. Biological extinction in earth history. Science 231:1528-1533.
  • Vail

see in addition:

The reconstruction of social science


Iberall, A.S. and H. Soodak. Physical basis for complex systems--Some propositions relating levels of organization. Collective Phenomena 3:9-24, 1978.

Iberall, A. S., H. Soodak and F. Hassler. 1978. A field and circuit thermodynamics for integrative physiology. II. Power and communicational spectroscopy in biology. Am J Physiol Regulatory Integrative Comp Physiol 234:3-19, 1978.

Soodak, H. and A. Iberall. 1978. Homeokinetics: A Physical Science for Complex Systems. Science. 201: 579-582.

Soodak, H. and A. Iberall. 1987. [Thermodynamics and Complex Systems]. In, F. E. Yates, ed., [Self-organizing systems: The emergence of order] pp. 459-469. New York: Plenum. Life Science Monographs, 1.

White, Douglas R. 2009 (forthcoming) Dynamics of Human Behavior (Cohesion and Resistance). To appear in Encyclopedia of Complexity and Systems Science. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. Roadmap to the paper (Abstract) - Topical publications: Douglas R. White

Human sociogeophysics — Phase II (continued): Criticality in the diffusion of ethnicity produces civil society

Phase Transitions and Collective Phenomena Ben Simmons

Mathematical Modeling and Anthropology: Its Rationale, Past Successes and Future Directions Dwight Read, Organizer European Meeting on Cybernetics and System Research 2002.