Basis for a New Science?

by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
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This feature is intended to become more yours than mine. It is to be an adventure in both “arm-chair philosophizing” and in practical matters pertaining to what may become one of the hottest new sciences of this new century.

Here, the chap who first published (in 1972) on the topic of sociotectonics hopes to launch a new discussion, beginning with the proposition that:

The physics of mechanics, both Newtonian and quantum, apply in patterns of human interaction no less than in terms of sub-atomic, atomic, molecular and macro-massed matter and energy.

In our day-to-day reflexive search for analogies and similes to express our various perceptions of what goes on around us, we frequently use such terms as “collide,” “impact,” and getting “leverage” on someone or on some situation. Can this frequent language of mechanics reflect more than metaphor?

I am no mathematician! — but I predict that when those who are start investigating this question, they will find many mathematically described relationships from mechanics, which also precisely describe many aspects of societal phenomena and which lead to a similar predictive power. This in the very teeth of the usual dismissal of such discussions as “mechanistic,” meaning a simple-minded confusion of simplistic and poorly understood mechanics in lieu of a more complex reality. In such dismissal, we might well have been missing a truly fertile area of meaningful investigation.

One small element of this “specializations crossover” has been generally recognized for a long time:  the accountability and predictability of large numbers as opposed to the unpredictability of individual instances.

The great British historian, Arnold J. Toynbee (A Study of History, Oxford University Press, 1928-57), referred to this point often in his search for meaningful patterns in the dynamics of those most massive human players known as “civilizations.”

Alfred Kuhn, in his book, The Study of Society: A Unified Approach (Irwin-Dorsey, 1964), not only sought to transfer the entire mechanistic science of cybernetics over into human psychological and social phenomena, but made one point widely recognized elsewhere. Given the mathematical and theoretical tools of the time, it is hard to describe the path and landing point of a single feather dropped from the top of the Empire State Building, but easy to predict that of a massive ton of feathers so dropped.

Thus, the affairs of massive numbers of human beings might well be plotted where those of one individual are more problematic. Precisely as in the distinction between Heisenberg and Newtonian mechanics, with the larger number the variables hardest to account for tend to cancel each other out, rendering for the mass a more predictable outcome.

Others, such as Nicholas Rashevsky in Looking at History Through Mathematics (M.I.T. Press, 1968), have met with some apparent success, if not acceptance, in identifying mathemechanical aspects to biology, history, sociology and other branches of human investigation. Still others have found such physically-based sciences as information theory, general systems theory and now chaos or complexity theory, as more convenient, more readily recognized ways of looking at the basic phenomena of human existence and behavior. For some reason, we’ve steered wide of the more specific dynamics of mechanics.

That reason may well have much less to do with verity and science than it does with our traditional, originally theology-derived insistence on dualism and on looking at ourselves as apart from nature rather than as an expression of nature. That most scientists are unconscious of this assumption at work in their own supposedly objective responses, renders them more susceptible to this bias in judgment, rather than less. So most overlook and ignore considerations which fly in the face of this unconscious dualism.

One Starting-Point

I have introduced some hundreds of people, in very short presentation times, to some of the key understandings found in the study of fractals, chaos theory and Mandelbrot sets, though I’m no expert therein. Audiences emerged with remarkably high incidence of understanding. One of the most productive paths has been to introduce the entire notion of strange attractors by starting with an experience of gravitational slingshotting and orbital mechanics, progressing through astronomy’s famous “3-body problem,” on into strange attractors, self-recursive systems and the rest. Looking at this convenient starting-point more closely has led me to recognize such issues as intensity resulting from closeness of human interaction, and to generalize the concept of one person or factor “playing off of” another.

The example of the Greek concept of “competition,” of coming together before the gods at Olympus and using one another to drive one’s own performance to a higher level before those gods — a very different thing from the corrupted, destructive modern concept of “competition” — is a core aspect here.

A similar mechanics issue is where the same elements in interactions have so many different outcomes, for example, the outcome of play at second base (issues of sequence, timing, etc.). The same issues can be found in the elements of “nature” and “nurture” in the controversy over what determines the outcome basis of “intelligence” or “I.Q.”

Other Possible Starting-Points

Everett E. Hagan (On the Theory of Social Change, Irwin-Dorsey, 1964) may have been first to identify the observation that the most striking advances of civilizations appear to coincide when a society is emerging from feudalism into broader arrangements and communications. The example in early Greece, as well as the European Renaissance in our own civilization, as well as pre-Han China and pre-Meiji Restoration Japan, come strikingly to mind. It would seem almost that energy was accumulating in those tight, almost suffocating, relationships within the feudal order, which became energy available for work when that structure broke down. Closer investigation might well reveal more specific correspondences with orbital mechanics and with atomic and sub-atomic and molecular/chemical behavior.

More simply, the progression might be put in terms of Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogene’s historic chemistry-based and seemingly negentropic observations which became part of the basis for both general systems theory and chaos theory. When feudal societies collapse, sometimes, instead of disintegrating altogether into barbarity, they implode into a higher, more complexly sophisticated order. The same description may give us also an accounting for other breakdown-related phenomena in various levels of human affairs. One element in such an analysis may well be the study of the energy accumulated in some of the closer, more intense specific relationships of the prior structure and systemic ways in which that energy drives events into the higher structure, or fails to do so.

Can we mass into a productive star without blowing ourselves apart first?

The aforementioned Arnold Toynbee observed that the best conditions for growth and development of civilization appeared to be when society, whether feudalistically or otherwise, was divided into a scattering of small units too tiny and too remote from each other to limit each other’s actions, but close enough to each other in communications to imitate each other’s successes and avoid one another’s failures. Their very success led to growth which ended those conditions, approaching a time when decisions were made and imposed from above and a universalized or global society began grinding down all its rich human differences into an elite, a counter-cultural proletariat and an external or barbarian proletariat.

Toynbee, though, never made the connection between this and the other theme in his model — that advanced civilizations arise from stimulus of challenging problems which, when overcome, leave a residual impetus of momentum carrying the society forward into new such challenges, until at some point the civilization fails to solve some such challenge, breaks down into a time of troubles and thence into a destructive rout-and-rally pattern which ultimately fails…. Toynbee somehow failed to see that it was the centralization itself, the very structure he described, which cost civilization its ability to solve problems.

It was indeed this very progression which first suggested to me the foundations of sociotectonics, in Civilizations and Other Living Systems, 1972, and in Toward A General Theory of Systems, 1983.

Another line of investigation might be whether the dynamics and mathematics of the interactions, and even collisions of such massive structures as galaxies, may be found to describe and predict the interactions and interpenetrations of human societies.

General Goal of Such Discussions

I am confident that a single major science can be developed from a dozen or more specific sciences relating in some way to intermodulation, reverberation and resonance, and that this emergence can be a very powerful development in our understanding and in our subsequent application technology. I don’t feel that same confidence in this present discussion, but am pretty certain that further exploratory discussions in the topic posted here can be highly productive nonetheless.

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