At a recent PARC Forum at the Palo Alto Research Center in Palo Alto California, Marc Buchanan, author, and Associate Editor at Complexus and former editor of Nature and New Scientist, presented a fascinating talk on his new book The Social Atom: Physics and the Science of Human Affairs -a cross between Smart Mobs, The Tipping Point, Freakonomics and the World is Flat
Why are some bars crowded one week and empty the next? What's the logic behind the New York Stock Exchange, and other financial markets, and how do streams of thinking feed on themselves to create rallies and crashes that no one ever intended? What makes ethnic violence break out? Using these and other examples, Mark Buchanan’s book will show that our collective behavior follows mathematical patterns of surprising precision. Buchanan takes on the reasoning of major economic theory, and then uses the law of physics and the cutting-edge work of some of the world's most creative scientists to explain how by looking at humans as social atoms (and computer modeling now enables us to do this), we are much more likely to be able to predict and understand our own behavior. But this way of thinking does not demean or devalue human life, it merely accepts that mathematics and mechanics of the ordinary world apply to us as much as to anything else. "Looking at patterns, not people" in the way that physicists observe atoms offers us a basic, yet revolutionary way to understand the ways in which we all live together, and why sometimes it works so well, and why sometimes so badly.
- collective self-organizing patterns;
- "organization matters more then the parts involved"
- we are less rational then most economists give us credit for, problem of reflexivity
- in modeling financial markets; markets have a strong tendency for fluctuations, extreme changes
- simulation and computer modeling is getting more robust predicting simple events matching real world events
- explaining ethnocentrism (our group is superior) and ethnic violence; ethnocentrism is the
tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one's own culture. It is defined as the viewpoint that “one’s own group is the center of everything,” against which all other groups are judged.
- modeling trust, cooperation and reputation
- social science is more about patterns and simple rules then individual people
Fascinating talk about complexity in a fashion that the lay public can understand
ABOUT THE SPEAKER:
Mark Buchanan is a theoretical physicist and associate editor at Complexus, a journal of bio-complexity. He was formerly an editor at Nature and New Scientist, and is the author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles in the U.S. and U.K. Dr Buchanan is a European Commission expert in the area of the "complexity sciences," and the author of two prize-nominated books, "Ubiquity: The Science of History" and "Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks". His third book, "The Social Atom", was just publishing on June 5, 2007, and explores how ideas and concepts from the physical sciences can help us understand human affairs.
From Publishers Weekly
"Buchanan (Ubiquity: The Science of History) reaches out to the audience for pop social science like The Tipping Point and Freakonomics with the concept of "social physics," a scientific model for the patterns that emerge from the interactions among large groups of people. Though his observations that people excel at imitating the successful behavior of others and will often form collective bonds over such fundamental pretenses as shared ethnic heritage aren't startling, Buchanan leans on his background in theoretical physics and treats these ideas as "a quantum revolution in the social sciences." His presentation is muted by a tendency to talk around the subject, recapping prior discussions and promising future developments instead of establishing a clear, compelling thread. Though the real-life scenarios he uses to illustrate his theories—such as the unexpected revival of Times Square or the outbreak of ethnic violence in the former Yugoslavia—are engaging, some sections draw upon computer simulations of arbitrary behavior that illustrate his thesis but don't command equal interest. This is a great idea for a magazine article, but awkward at book length. (June) "
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