Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Joseph Hickey — How Societies Form and Change

You might find this of interest. As a bonus, it explains some fundamental principles of mathematical modeling.
Hierarchy appears to be an inescapable feature of animal, including human, societies. There are dominants and subordinates, bosses and employees, rulers and subjects, and an individual’s position in the social hierarchy to a large degree determines fundamental aspects of his or her life, including one’s health, access to resources, and influence in society. From the individual’s point of view, the hierarchy provides security, but also reduces one’s freedom. What determines how oppressive society is toward the individual? Would more freedom be better for society? How bad does societal inequality have to become before things start getting better? Are there any fundamental laws or rules that control how social hierarchy forms and evolves in a complex society of many interacting individuals and groups?
I am doing my PhD research in physics on these questions. Something I’m often asked is how can the study of social hierarchy be considered “physics”? The answer is “simple” – physicists try to construct simple models to reveal essential or underlying features of complex natural phenomena. Such a model has to be as simple as possible, yet it must be cleverly constructed so that, in its simplicity, the model captures essential features of reality. If this is achieved, the model can provide insights about underlying rules that may control or influence the real phenomenon.
I have constructed a simple physics model of the formation and evolution of social hierarchies, based on interactions between the individual members of the society. Computer simulations of the model produce societies that resemble real-world societies, and we can study how the simulated societies are formed and how they change in time. A scientific article presenting the model has been submitted to a journal and can be read online at ResearchGate.1 In the following, I outline how the model works for a general (non-specialist) reader and briefly discuss what its results might mean in terms of understanding social hierarchy in the real world.
Dissident Voice
How Societies Form and Change
Joseph Hickey | Executive Director of the Ontario Civil Liberties Association(OCLA)

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