From Publishers Weekly
Ball (an NBCC award finalist for Bright Earth
) enthusiastically demonstrates how the application of the laws of modern physics to the social sciences can greatly enrich our understanding of the laws of human behavior: we can, he says, make predictions about society without negating the individual's free will. He opens his lucid and compelling study with an account of Thomas Hobbes's mechanistic political philosophy and shows how Adam Smith, Kant, Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill expanded on Hobbes's scientific but anti-utopian theories of government and society. Ball notes a return to such a scientific view of the social sciences in the past two decades, and he examines the application of physical laws to economics, politics, even the inevitable synchronization of a theater audience's applause. First, he exhaustively details the development of key concepts in contemporary physics, such as self-organization, phase transitions, flocking behavior, chaos, bifurcation points, preferential attachment networks and evolutionary game theory. Next, he shows how social scientists apply these concepts to the study of human organization. Ball's primary assertion is that we must attend to the relationship between global phenomena and local actions. In other words, noticing the impact of individual decisions on laws and institutions is more worthwhile than trying to predict the behavior of individuals (as Ball's discussion of the logic of voting habits makes all too clear). Ball's carefully argued disagreements with conventional economic theory make for particularly engaging reading. Nonspecialist readers who enjoy a steep learning curve will relish the thought-provoking discussions Ball provides. Photos, illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this wide-ranging investigation of pioneering attempts to explain social behavior by applying formulas borrowed from physics, Ball explains how maverick social theorists are now using discoveries about molecular motion and crystal formation to predict the behavior of various human groups, including crowds of soccer fans and clusters of pedestrians. Ball acknowledges that past "political arithmeticians" have often dehumanized their subjects by adopting mechanistic assumptions about individual psychology and have sometimes legitimated totalitarian rulers by giving them a putatively scientific charter. But Ball's numerous detailed examples of the new social physics show how statistical models from physics can yield highly reliable predictions for large-group outcomes without abridging the unpredictable freedom of individual choice. These same examples teach that a consistent physics of society yields not an ideological straitjacket stipulating how people should
act but rather a detailed portrait of how people do
act. Because the new social physics can help managers and policy makers in dozens of fields, this accessibly written book will attract a very diverse audience. Bryce ChristensenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved