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THE ALCHEMY OF SOCIAL ENGINEERING AND SELF-ORGANIZING SYSTEMS

January 26, 2012 By Joseph P. Farrell

A Mr. V.T. brought to my attention the following profoundly interesting article at phys.org:

People behave socially and 'well' even without rules: study

There are a number of things I find interesting here. First, with the emergence of physicists into the world of finance, a move that began as a trickle in the 1950s, grew to a small stream in the 1960s, and into a veritable flood in the 1980s, a whole new science - econophysics - was born, as those trained in advanced statistical modeling techniques in quantum mechanics began to apply the same techniques to modelling the aggregate behavior of complex economic "multibody" systems.

However, what intrigues me the most in the article is the following statement at the beginning of the article:

"The game does not suggest any rules and everyone can live with their avatar (i.e. with their “game character” in the ) as they choose. 'And the result of this is not anarchy”, says Thurner. “The organise themselves as a social group with good intents. Almost all the actions are positive.'"

What this statement hints at is that human societies are what physicists working in the arcane area of non-equilibrium thermodynamics and chaos theory would call "Self-organizing systems," in other words, systems beginning in states of chaos - and non-equilibrium - tend to develop organization from randomness. Indeed, chaos theory played a crucial role within the models developed by "econophysicists" during the 1980s. Out of these self-organizing human systems, societies evolve and indeed, everything and everyone is "networked" or linked, in fascinating ways (see the excellent book by mathematician Albert Laszlo Barabasi, Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life).

As this self-organization occurs, it goes through various stages, even developing  feedback loops between various stages or phases in the evolution of systems, a phenomenon first noticed in the early 1960s by chemist Ilya Prigogine, who was working in the then almost-unheard-of area of non-equilibrium thermodynamics and systems kinetics. According to this little article, human societies evolve along similar pathways and distinct phases. And with this, the article makes an astonishing admission:

"The long-term aim is to detect “phase transitions in societies” early on using these measurements and the behavioural patterns researched in the virtual world in order to be able to forecast group dynamic social processes and to be able to react in the event of these cases in good time."

I strongly suspect that this ability to detect such phase transitions in societies, itself a version of Isaac Asimov's idea of "psyhohistory," i.e., the mathematical prediction of large scale social and cultural changes that was the core theme of his celebrated Foundation series of science-fiction novels, has already been quietly and secretly developed, utilizing advanced database management software (can we say PROMIS  and its descendants here?), as a tool of long-term strategic analysis and planning, and that what we're witnessing here in this article is the "trickle down" into the public sphere.

In short, folks, the alchemy of social engineering is slowly and inevitably becoming more and more of an exact predictive science, far surpassing the clumsy (though very effective) techniques of the past, including the well-known Hegelian dialectical technique of crisis management: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. But of course, for those looking at Hegel's technique with topological and combinatorial lenses, this was known already....

See you on the flip side.