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SOCIOPHYSICS: DEFINITION AND PRACTICAL APPLICATION


SOCIOPHYSICS
What is this? How does it work?

What is sociophysics? What is about and how does it work? 

By reading the following sections you will find the answers to these questions. In particular, the sociophysics, the principles underlying its operation and its practical applications will be defined.


1. WHAT IS SOCIOPHYSICS?


1.1 A definition

Sociophysics is the use of concepts and techniques that are taken from statistical physics to investigate some social and political behavior. The aim is not to exact a detailed description of the reality, but to individuate some basic mechanics which may be rather counterintuitive.

So, sociophysics borrow from physics those techniques and concepts that can be used to build a collective theory of social behavior, but within the specific constraints of the psychosocial reality: the contribution from physics should thus be restricted to guidelines for the modeling of social realities.


1.2 Aim of sociophysics: uncover the laws of social behavior

As we stated before, sociophysics can be considered a new and more precise approach to human behavior, which include psychological, social, economical and political aspects. 

It must be clear that the goal is not to substitute a physical view to all aspects of human life: the aim is to bring to light the very plausible existence of quantitative laws which govern human behavior. So, sociophysics could turn into a quantitative science in order to discover the actual laws of social behavior in the same way that physics did so with the laws governing inert matter. 

Sociophysics doesn’t claim to reach an exact description of a human group, but instead aims to shed new light on human phenomena.


2. BASIC PHILOSOPHY


2.1 Role of Physics and Modeling

Behind the use of the word “physics” in our so-called “sociophysics” stands the way physics proceeds in seeking to understand the laws of inert matter, rather than the use of the laws of physics themselves. This particular way is the physics’s modeling. But, why modeling?

Human societies is a complex and complicated world, and only an over simplified vision of it can capture a substantial part of its essential features. So, sociophysics create an “artificial” world, in which everything is controlled and clearly defined and the laws of interactions are explicitly written and the range of variations of all the parameters are set, together with the definition of the eventual dynamics of evolution. Once all that is done, the associated collective properties can be studied to find out how “artificial” humans behave within the given “artificial” world. 

Once this procedure has been carried out, we will proceed in checking out if some of the discovered features, which are active within our “artificial world,” could mimic some of the features of the real world we aim to capture. In case it does work, we will not jump to the conclusion that we have discovered some “social truth” but we will suggest that the mechanisms used to describe the “artificial world” may be very similar to the ones behind the corresponding real social feature.


2.2 The Challenge

The permanent challenge is to build a model to perform calculations in order to obtain data and results, which in the second step can be compared to the real counterpart of the phenomenon, either via the setting up of experiments, as in physics, or via quantitatively observed trends from the social world. 


2.3 Does sociophysics uncover the truth? The design of Toy Models

Is important to underline that sociophysics, like physics, doesn’t search an absolute global and unique truth to describe our world. The possibility of the full truth is de facto abandoned, but is still possible to investigate the various levels of the world, gaining in turn substantial insight to make solid predictions.

This operative mode is called “toy models”, which are by nature extremely crude with respect to the reality they address. Once a “toy model” is defined, solved and validated, it becomes possible to enrich it with additional ingredients in order to narrow the gap with reality and cope with it in a more realistic way.


2.4 Which problems may be addressed? Humans and Atoms

An important concept of sociophysics that must be clear is that sociophysics doesn’t claim to explain all aspects of human behavior. To understand which problems can be addressed and which are outside the scope of the approach, we can consider some questions.

First at all, can we put in parallel atom and the individual? In physics, the atom defines the basic level of investigation. In social sciences, starting from the single human individual allows us to consider human beings in the “bulk” form (society). So, is the connection atom-individual possible and correct to do? The answer is: “no”. The same answer also holds when comparing an atom to a country, a firm, a cell, a political party, a stock, a grain of sand, and many other entities. Why? Because we need to consider not the singular entity, but the plurality. 

So we can ask ourselves, what is common to an assembly of atoms and an assembly of human being? Unfortunately, the answer is: “nothing”. Again, this remains valid for an assembly of countries, firms, cells, political parties, stocks, sand grains, and many other groups of entities. We have chosen, again, the wrong question.

The right question is: “is there something in common with both processes of passing respectively from one atom to many atoms and from one human being to many human beings?” The answer becomes “yes, there is a lot.” This statement also holds true when going from one country, one firm, one cell, one political party, one stock, one grain, and any other entity toward many countries, firms, cells, political parties, stocks, grains, and other entities.

More precisely, the hypothesis behind the present approach is that these micro–macro mechanisms are universal and hold true beyond the true nature of the various entities involved. 


3. MODELING: STEPS AND RESULTS INTERPRETATION

Considering what we have just said about sociophysics and the philosophy behind it, we can illustrate the methodology and, in particular, the path of modeling.

We can divide the procedure in 7 phases, which we will now describe.


3.1 Modeling’s steps


  1. Choose a particular phenomenon: the process starts by picking out a single global phenomenon or some social practice occurring in society.
  2. Identify one salient paradoxical feature: once we have selected the phenomenon or the social practice of interest, we have to clearly identify the associated paradoxical features.
  3. Simplification: brutal simplification, where the phenomenon is reduced to a minimum, preserving a few basic essential features capable of producing some non-trivial dynamics. The goal, here, is to undress the selected feature in order to extract some well-defined “pure paradox”.
  4. Model set up: set up of the simplest possible model which can reproduce the selected social paradox using bare and precise mechanism. The purpose is first to check if this bare mechanism can underline the onset of the paradox. 
  5. Establish logical link: once the toy model is working, the second goal is to establish a logical link between the artificial model and the supposed feature, in other words, the real social property we started from.
  6. Push the limits of the model: once everything in the dynamics of the model is controlled and understood, we move on with the possibility of pushing its basic limits, in order to embody more realistic ingredients. It is also of importance to check the robustness of the result with respect to the chosen bare mechanism, since in particular for social situations, the initial conditions are never exactly known. 
  7. Enumerate possible extensions: the study ends by outlining possible extensions of the range of applications of the model.


3.2 Results interpretation 

At this level of investigation, we do not address the question of the quantitative applications to the studied social phenomenon. We aim at defining some qualitative tendencies, which are hopefully present in real-life phenomena, but embodied and masked by some others. Although our models are quantitative in the sense that, using physical modeling and mathematical calculations, they yield precise numbers and figures, these numbers should not be taken too seriously by themselves. Only the associated qualitative description of the considered phenomenon is to be given serious thought to eventually deal with social realities. It is on this basis that we will never take too seriously the figures we get but on the contrary, we will focus seriously on the nature and the trends of the various dynamics obtained. 

Related to this, is important to underline that all the results obtained from the various models are aimed at being tested against experimental data.