Sociology and Economics as Branches of Physics

Mark Buchanan, The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught, and Your Neighbor Usually Looks Like You, New York: Bloomsbury, 2007.

Buchanan is an American physicist and former editor of Nature.  In his latest book, he argues that the collective behavior of human beings can be understood and explained more deeply than by the traditional tools of sociology and economics thanks to ideas and modeling techniques drawn from physics.  He reviews for a general audience some recent work in this newish field.

The basic idea is to focus on a few properties of human beings that are most relevant to certain phenomena (e.g., the ability to learn and adapt, the tendency to imitate others, the impulse to cooperate) and use them to build simple but powerful models inspired by the physics and mathematics of complex systems. 

For instance, the ability of human beings to learn and adapt can explain the fluctuations in the stock markets, group selection can explain the origin of altruism, and simple luck can explain why wealth is distributed in all societies according to a power law (i.e., roughly, why wealth is distributed unequally regardless of institutional differences between societies).

In spite of some occasional simplistic arguments and excessive disdain for alternative approaches, Buchanan makes a strong case for his way of doing behavioral science.  If you are interested for an clear and easy introduction to this area, check out his book.

Incidentally, there is a connection between what Buchanan says and certain anti-reductionist arguments in the philosophy of mind.  A standard example used by philosophers of physically irreducible properties are those studied by economics.  As the example goes, money is multiply realizable and yet, presumably, all monetary transactions fall under the laws of economics.  Therefore, economic laws are irreducible to physical laws.  Well, if Buchanan is right (and I’m inclined to agree with him), this argument is a big time non sequitur:  (1) classical economics is built on a foundation of sand (the fiction of homo oeconomicus), and the supposed laws of classical economics are often false, (2) the true laws of economics are physical laws, with the caveat that physics is general enough to abstract away from differences in how money is implemented in different cases.  I think the same point could be made about mental properties/generalizations about the mind.

3 Comments

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    Kate

  2. joe nahhas

    Einstein’s Nemesis: DI Her Eclipsing Binary Stars Solution
    The problem that the 100,000 PHD Physicists could not solve

    This is the solution to the “Quarter of a century” Smithsonian-NASA Posted motion puzzle that Einstein and the 100,000 space-time physicists including 109 years of Nobel prize winner physics and physicists and 400 years of astronomy and Astrophysicists could not solve and solved here and dedicated to Drs Edward Guinan and Frank Maloney
    Of Villanova University Pennsylvania who posted this motion puzzle and started the search collections of stars with motion that can not be explained by any published physics
    For 350 years Physicists Astrophysicists and Mathematicians and all others including Newton and Kepler themselves missed the time-dependent Newton’s equation and time dependent Kepler’s equation that accounts for Quantum – relativistic effects and it explains these effects as visual effects. Here it is

    Universal- Mechanics

    All there is in the Universe is objects of mass m moving in space (x, y, z) at a location
    r = r (x, y, z). The state of any object in the Universe can be expressed as the product

    S = m r; State = mass x location

    P = d S/d t = m (d r/dt) + (dm/dt) r = Total moment

    = change of location + change of mass

    = m v + m’ r; v = velocity = d r/d t; m’ = mass change rate

    F = d P/d t = d²S/dt² = Force = m (d²r/dt²) +2(dm/d t) (d r/d t) + (d²m/dt²) r

    = m γ + 2m’v +m”r; γ = acceleration; m” = mass acceleration rate

    In polar coordinates system

    r = r r(1) ;v = r’ r(1) + r θ’ θ(1) ; γ = (r” – rθ’²)r(1) + (2r’θ’ + rθ”)θ(1)

    F = m[(r”-rθ’²)r(1) + (2r’θ’ + rθ”)θ(1)] + 2m'[r’r(1) + rθ’θ(1)] + (m”r) r(1)

    F = [d²(m r)/dt² – (m r)θ’²]r(1) + (1/mr)[d(m²r²θ’)/d t]θ(1) = [-GmM/r²]r(1)

    d² (m r)/dt² – (m r) θ’² = -GmM/r²; d (m²r²θ’)/d t = 0

    Let m =constant: M=constant

    d²r/dt² – r θ’²=-GM/r² —— I

    d(r²θ’)/d t = 0 —————–II
    r²θ’=h = constant ————– II
    r = 1/u; r’ = -u’/u² = – r²u’ = – r²θ'(d u/d θ) = -h (d u/d θ)
    d (r²θ’)/d t = 2rr’θ’ + r²θ” = 0 r” = – h d/d t (du/d θ) = – h θ'(d²u/d θ²) = – (h²/r²)(d²u/dθ²)
    [- (h²/r²) (d²u/dθ²)] – r [(h/r²)²] = -GM/r²
    2(r’/r) = – (θ”/θ’) = 2[λ + ỉ ω (t)] – h²u² (d²u/dθ²) – h²u³ = -GMu²
    d²u/dθ² + u = GM/h²
    r(θ, t) = r (θ, 0) Exp [λ + ỉ ω (t)] u(θ,0) = GM/h² + Acosθ; r (θ, 0) = 1/(GM/h² + Acosθ)
    r ( θ, 0) = h²/GM/[1 + (Ah²/Gm)cosθ]
    r(θ,0) = a(1-ε²)/(1+εcosθ) ; h²/GM = a(1-ε²); ε = Ah²/GM

    r(0,t)= Exp[λ(r) + ỉ ω (r)]t; Exp = Exponential

    r = r(θ , t)=r(θ,0)r(0,t)=[a(1-ε²)/(1+εcosθ)

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