Early this morning, I had a chance to sit down with my (unofficial) dissertation advisor to talk about research going into my final six credits of coursework. I hope to propose next spring, having written the first two-thirds of my dissertation between now and the end of the fall semester. High hopes? Maybe, but I’ve found that I do well with deadlines and short-term goals.
In this discussion, we brought about a number of books I am intent on reading this fall and why they made it into my reading list. They are separated into two groups and are listed as follows:
- Micromotives and Macrobehavior – Thomas Schelling
- Growing Artificial Societies: Social Science from the Bottom Up – Axtel and Epstein
- Information and Self-Organization: A Macroscopic Approach to Complex Systems – Haken
- Individual-based Modeling and Ecology – Grimm and Railsback
- The Theory of Ecology – Scheiner and Willig
- Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Interplay of Selection, Accident, Neutrality, and Function – Crutchfield and Schuster
- Adaptation in Natural and Artificial Systems – Holland
- A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution – Bowles and Gintis
- Dynamics in Human and Primate Societies Agent-based Modeling of Social and Spatial Processes – Kohler
- Complex Human Dynamics: From Mind to Societies – Nowak, et al.
Each of these revolves around specific interests within my thoughts on social systems. Ideas evolve much like genes do; though, ideas find iterations through time and interactions, unlike genes which require propagation through technology. I have written before on the necessity of trans-disciplinary work on social systems; it’s become more of a buzzword, but in practice much can be accomplished. At some point, I will share my notes with you on each of these books; not in their complete form but an abridged version.
Many interesting ideas abounded throughout our conversation; so many that I wish I could have recorded it, but observations are equivalent to interactions and that may have changed the course of our conversation. The first of which is that we should read works not to duplicate them, but as to alter or inform our way of thinking; another acceptable outlet is to apply what and how someone else tackled a problem and using that method, go about solving other problems in a similar light. After reading a new work, one has to ask themselves, “Has this work rearranged the furniture in my head, removed some furniture while replacing it with new items, or a mixture of both?” In my life, there have been a few books that have severely altered my train of thought and how I perceived the world, while many others have given me only a nuanced view of something very specific. In economics, Karl Menger’s Principles was a building block of my thoughts thereafter.
In some ways, new knowledge is frightening, it threatens our previously held world views and in place of those is something unknown. One can find examples of this throughout time, it’s not limited to the actions of the church during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Modern societies are often faced with new information that threatens their identities. Even the movements that cause societies to tremble face new information that they want to dismiss or refuse to pursue. Revisions of history are often rejected for a variety of reasons; confirmation bias is a powerful thing.
The next things to came up were about agent-based modeling and social sciences. Many of those in the social sciences aim for the creation of a better society, but this is in some ways anathema to doing pure science. It is most likely impossible to separate the subjective person from the objective analysis in social sciences. We have to perceive our data through the lens of theories and our understandings. In almost all cases, data even in its raw form must have gone through at least one filter before a researcher looks at it. The first of which is what data is seen as valuable enough to collect.
This lens of social science is one that causes many researchers to see themselves outside the system they are observing and many theses are built on the want to solve certain problems or issues. First of all, every person is already inside the system; we cannot take ourselves out. It is wishful thinking to assume away our place inside the very systems which we observe. ABM scientists are perhaps the worst at trying to step outside since much of the time they are outside of their models looking in. What would the modeler do if she were in one of the systems she has created? Second, many problems in social systems are unsolvable. What is possible is the observation of both phenomena and patterns; there exists no one solution since every iteration of a system produces a multitude of them. I am not a fan of formal equilibrium theory outside the classroom. (I am picking up Janos Kornai’s Anti-Equilibrium from the library today; his intuition on economic systems is fascinating.)
The final thing is that I have to narrow down my topics for my dissertation. There are far too many things to learn and not enough time learn them all. This is going to be quite an adventure.