Category Archives: sociology

Scenario Thinking and Covid-19

Scenario Planning, Analysis, or Thinking is a technique for probing into possible futures when you are anticipating or overwhelmed by tumultuous challenges. One often starts by examining two factors that have both great Importance and Uncertainty and then considering two extremes of each. For their four different mixtures, you can posit causes, how to recover from bad outcomes, what actions would be favorable for all scenarios, etc. In other words, one can develop related stories about these different futures.

In these slides by authors Steven Weber and Arik Ben-Zvi, the two important and uncertain factors are Public Health and Economics, both affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, and for their initial purposes independent of each other. For public health, the disease could kill far more than estimated (a secondary wave) or kill less (vanish like a miracle). For the economic impact, the toll could be sustained (a long term depression) or the recovery could be relatively quick (v-shaped). So the two factors and their extremes are

    • Economic recovery is slow (depression, recession), or fast (v-shaped)
    • Health and death toll is worse (than estimates), or better (yay)

The four scenarios that are named are basically

    • Economy good, Health good: Americans Win
    • Economy bad, Health good: Fractured USA
    • Economy good, Health bad: Resilient USA
    • Economy bad, Health bad: Coronavirus Wins

and the scenario stories are told with respect to January of 2021 at the next state of the union address. Each of these scenarios are quite detailed and then followed by Insights and Implications for all. Often Scenario Thinking is used for more distant future analysis, but this shows it can be used for a mere nine months as well.

Further Reading:

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6663482861041012737/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scenario_planning

Continue reading Scenario Thinking and Covid-19

The Prospect Theory of Kahneman and Tversky

Like it or not, we are all betting individuals. But what interactions are there between the perceived and actual probabilities of things happening and the choices made for or against them? The likelihood of their occurrence, coupled with the size of the gains or losses from anticipating and acting on them, show that people are not entirely the rational agents that we think they are.

Instead of armchair introspection, careful experimental methods were used to give us these (not so) unexpected results. What is demonstrated is that deciding individuals make asymmetric choices based on their poor understanding of relative likelihoods. All sorts of biases and poor thinking on our part contribute to non-rational evaluations of how we end up choosing between alternatives.

The findings are that the near certainty of events happening is undervalued in our estimation, and the merely possible is overvalued. So those things very likely to occur have a diminished weight in our minds, and those things unlikely but possible have an increased weight. These are called the certainty effect and the possibility effect, respectively.

  • Likely Gain (Fear)
  • Likely Loss (Hope)
  • Maybe Gain (Hope)
  • Maybe Loss (Fear)

This asymmetry in valuation leads fearful individuals to accept early settlements and buy too much insurance, or hopeful individuals to buy lottery tickets and play the casino more often then they should if choosing optimally. What factors contribute to this behavior? Emotions, beliefs, and biases, probably all play a role in these perceived payoffs between dread and excitement.

In some “Dirty Harry” movie, the lead character essentially asks “do you feel lucky, punk?”, to goad another into taking a risk. In the movie “War Games”, the supercomputer more or less temptingly asks, “would you like to play a game?”, to encourage the playing of unwinnable matches. Watch out for those that know how to play the odds of hope and fear to manipulate our prospects and decisions.

Further Reading:

https://theoryofself.com/the-four-fold-pattern-decisions-under-risk-e4e634eefc61

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospect_theory

View at Medium.com

Daniel Kahneman / Thinking Fast and Slow

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The Devolution of Trust

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a simple game designed to show how the success or failure of cooperation between individuals can be contingent on various factors, primarily some sort of reward. Shown above is a representative payoff matrix between two players; each square shows the two choices and the two winnings for each. Each player cooperates (A or B) or cheats (A’ or B’) with the other player, so for example if A and B’ obtains (A cooperates but B cheats) then A loses 1 and B wins 3.

Each player knows all the values of the payoff matrix so it is said they have perfect information, except they don’t know what their opponent will do. If they are rational and believe their opponent to be as well, the wisest thing to do is for both to cooperate to maximize their winnings, knowing that their opponent knows that they could also cheat. If the game is played only once, however, that is clearly not the case.

If the game is iterated, things change. If each player remembers what their opponent did previously, and it is considered to be informative for what they might do next, then the player could use it to condition their decision to cooperate or cheat. Different algorithms or personalities can be considered for the players, with more or less thinking about what to do and more or less willingness to cooperate, and it is interesting to try different strategies, all the while seeing what adjustments of the payoff matrix might do to the results.

This Evolution of Trust site is a very nice lesson in some of the complications that can result for such algorithms and adjustments. On the whole, this site indicates that rationality and consideration for others can thrive, if conditions are right. In the traditional Prisoner’s Dilemma, the reward values in the payoff matrix are usually considered to be jail sentence time (so less is better), or for the site mentioned above where I’ve taken the representative matrix, monetary value (so more is better).

One thing of note in these examples is that each player doesn’t distinguish their opponent by anything other than their posteriori plays, because these players are supposed to be all part of the same group or society. But what if there is an a priori distinction that conditions their decision? So, if your opponent is a known Y, and you are a X, then you might want to raise your social credit with your other Xs by punishing a Y, even if it punishes you or even other Xs in the long run.

For example if you are a member of gang X, you wouldn’t want to cheat against another X. But cheating against a member of gang Y might raise your in-group social capital and be as important as the value of the reward. Or you might want to punish your opponent in group Y by not granting them any benefits even at the cost of your own benefit. Such distinctions are not usually part and parcel of the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, but they would add an interesting and realistic dimension to the game.

And thus lend insight into the woes of our modern political scene and culturally diverse society.

Further Reading:

https://ncase.me/trust/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sneetches_and_Other_Stories

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2017/08/03/the-prisoners-dilemma/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devolution_(biology)

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What is Turbulence?

In his science-fictional “Foundation Trilogy”, Isaac Asimov famously hypothesized a future science called “psychohistory”, a mathematically grounded theory of generalized and predictive human action, based on an amalgamation of psychology, history, and sociology. The future galactic empire was managed by this theory and practice (look out – almost seventy year old spoilers!) except for an exceptional character that was not anticipated and essentially unpredicable.

Asimov had in mind well validated continuous and statistical theories of physics, for example for idealized gases and their laws. I was stuck by an image for an explanation of turbulence that highlighted key elements of velocity, density, pressure, and viscosity, and how it was (in my mind) analogical to antagonistic individuals, dominating leaders, submissive society, and affiliated coteries. Of course, an article below states that turbulence is still too complicated to provably model correctly at this point in time.

I had no idea that psychohistory was claimed to be an actual field of study these days, albeit being somewhat controversial in its authenticity. And it doesn’t seem to have any mathematical basis yet, as far as I know. Mathematician Dan Crisan gave an inaugural talk a few years ago that was hypothesizing using heat equations instead of fluid dynamics as a basis. Even so, we can’t seem to properly model any sort of social action so how could psychohistory be within our grasp?

In these turbulent times perhaps we should make an effort to understand ourselves a bit better, as we hope to navigate between the Charybdisian whirlpool of civil discord and environmental collapse and the Scyllaian rocks of fascism, authoritarianism, and / or totalitarianism. But hey, isn’t Apple doing an Apple TV+ series based on Asimov’s books? Let’s all tune in!

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohistory_(fictional)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohistory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_(TV_series)

https://www.quantamagazine.org/why-turbulence-is-a-hard-physics-problem-20190128/

https://www.quantamagazine.org/videos/what-is-turbulence/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navier–Stokes_equations

Philip Ball / Critical Mass : How One Thing Leads to Another (2004)

Concerning Professor Dan Crisan:

http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/eventssummary/event_11-12-2012-13-34-29

Click to access talkinaugural230113.pdf

And also this quite long but interesting essay:

Prolegomena to Any Dark-Age Psychohistory

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The Interpersonal Circumplex

May I have your attention please. The following citizens have been declared unmutual: Number 6.”

— From the TV show The Prisoner

Here we have another diagram based on the work of Timothy Leary (the other being the Eight Circuit Model of Consciousness), a simple chart defined by two axes. The vertical axis is currently and commonly thought of as agency (as well as power, control, assertiveness, and dominance) and the horizontal axis as communion (as well as love, agreeableness, friendliness, and affiliation).

The diagram is usually shown with concentric circles centered on the intersection of the axes, inviting continuous twofold measurements and plotting for the factors of dominance and affiliation. Thus it allows comparisons for the different quantified interactions of individuals within a group, perhaps as a metric for social cohesion and its opposite, fragmentation.

It is quite similar to the scheme for CM/CR (Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution), except that the Interpersonal Circumplex (IC) is a tool for understanding psychological and sociological behavior and traits, and CM/CR is apparently more often used in the business and political world. The IC also has commonalities with Grid-Group Cultural Theory, a notion used in sociological studies.

I first ran across something very much like the IC in Anthony Stevens’s “Ariadne’s Clue,” being used as a model for mythological solidarity and divergence. However, Leary is not credited but instead the primate studies of Chance and Jolly (1970) are cited for their work in intimidation and attraction, or agonic and hedonic modes of attention and interaction.

I would think that the IC could be used effectively to analyze the sorry state of politics in these “United States”, as domination and affiliation play their tug-of-war for superiority. I see some interesting papers by Kenneth Locke (2013), and of course I’m also thinking of the political work of George Lakoff as well, but I don’t see any use of the circumflex for Lakoff’s work.

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpersonal_circumplex

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Leary

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5045262/

https://psychology.wikia.org/wiki/Interpersonal_circumplex

John M. Oldham, Andrew E. Skodol, Donna S. Bender (eds.) / The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Personality Disorders

Christopher J. Hopwood, Abby L Mulay, Mark H Waugh (eds.) / The DSM-5 Alternative Model for Personality Disorders: Integrating Multiple …

Anthony Stevens / Ariadne’s Clue: a guide to the symbols of mankind (1998)

M. R. A. Chance and C. Jolly / Social Groups of Monkeys, Apes, and Men (1970)

Kenneth D. Locke / Circumplex Scales of Intergroup Goals: An Interpersonal Circle Model of Goals for Interactions Between Groups
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167213514280

Images of the Interpersonal Circumplex:
https://www.google.com/search?q=interpersonal+circumplex&client&tbm=isch

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2019/07/19/conflict-management-and-conflict-resolution/

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2019/08/19/grid-group-cultural-theory-v2/

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2019/02/07/the-eight-circuit-model-of-consciousness/

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The Twelve Houses of the Zodiac

How does one circumscribe the totality of human experience, both for the individual as well as for culture? One of the oldest ways is the twelvefold division of the Houses of the Zodiac, which may have its origins in Babylon. Other similar systems were used in India, China, Europe, etc. In my diagram above I’m using Latin numerals along with the Latin names of the houses.

For Western Astrology, four groups of three houses are divided by the four classical elements and then into triplicities (from Wikipedia):

  • Fire : Identity (I, V, IX)
  • Earth : Material (II, VI, X)
  • Air : Social and intellectual (III, VII, XI)
  • Water : Soul and Emotional (IV, VIII, XII)

And somewhat similarly for India, the divisions of Vedic Astrology are broken into four Bhavas or “needs” (from Wikipedia):

  • Dharma : (Duty) The need to find our path and purpose
  • Artha : (Resources) The need to acquire the necessary resources and abilities to provide for ourselves to fulfill our path and purpose
  • Kama : (Pleasure) The need for pleasure and enjoyment
  • Moksha : (Liberation) The need to find liberation and enlightenment from the world

There are more recent and scientific divisions of human universals, such as those by George Murdock, Robin Fox, and Donald Brown, as mentioned by Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens in his book “Archetype Revisited”. These are also grouped into four categories (from Wikipedia):

  • Language and cognition
  • Technology
  • Society
  • Beliefs

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_(astrology)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_astrology

https://www.dimension1111.com/astrology-the-houses.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_universal

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Stevens_(Jungian_analyst)

Anthony Stevens / Ariadne’s Clue: a guide to the symbols of mankind

Note that John Crowley’s “AEypgt Quartet” uses the Latin names of the Houses as “books”, three to a volume.

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2013/12/20/aegypt/

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Grid-Group Cultural Theory, V2

The Grid-Group Cultural Theory (also known as the Cultural Theory of Risk) originated from the studies of anthropologist Mary Douglas and political scientist Aaron Wildavsky. Grid and Group are two dimensions of sociality, each with a low and high value: Grid measures the differentiation between people (so low grid means people are similar), and Group measures the cohesion or social bonds between people (so low group means people do not have strong bonds).

From Wikipedia:

A “high group” way of life exhibits a high degree of collective control, whereas a “low group” one exhibits a much lower one and a resulting emphasis on individual self-sufficiency. A “high grid” way of life is characterized by conspicuous and durable forms of stratification in roles and authority, whereas a “low grid” one reflects a more egalitarian ordering.

And so:

  • Individualist: Low group and low grid, Nature is robust
  • Fatalist: Low group and high grid, Nature is capricious
  • Hierarchist: High group and high grid, Nature is tolerant
  • Egalitarian: High group and low grid, Nature is fragile
High
Grid
Low
Grid
High
Group
Hierarchist
(Positional)
Egalitarian
(Enclaves)
Low
Group
Fatalist
(Isolates)
Individualist
(Markets)

Further Reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_Theory_of_risk

http://changingminds.org/explanations/culture/grid-group_culture.htm

https://www.dustinstoltz.com/blog/2014/06/04/diagram-of-theory-douglas-and-wildavskys-gridgroup-typology-of-worldviews

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Combogenesis and Evolution

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

— Charles Darwin, from The Origin of Species

Another important part of Tyler Volk’s theory of combogenesis that I didn’t mention previously is the role that evolution plays in the dynamical realms of biology and culture. He even illustrates evolution as a three-part braid where the strands are the processes of propagation, variation, and (natural) selection. He argues that these processes are fundamental to an abstract notion of meta-evolution that can be seen working to cause change in both of these different domains.

I don’t think that there is anything controversial in listing these three processes as being essential for biological evolution. Other diagrams and schemas available on-line also mention overproduction or fecundity, or having more off-spring than is strictly needed to continue the population, and heredity or heritability, or the ability to pass on special traits from parents to children.

Overproduction not only allows for greater survival chances for the organism but also gives genetic variation a better chance at producing something beneficial or interesting. This depends on what your chance of variation is, of course, but it seems that it is just a facet of propagation. Likewise, heredity seems like it is also included in propagation, as the continuance of the same or similar attributes to one’s descendants.

I previously proposed that four processes were essential to the workings of evolution: generation, variation, selection, and speciation. Generation is basically another word for propagation, although propagation might more clearly suggest having same or similar dependents, whereas generation just means having descendants. Overproduction can also be combined into either of these aspects if so desired. But I’ll say that (at least in my mind) generation and propagation are roughly the same.

But what about the process of speciation? Is it as fundamental to biological evolution as we see it working on our planet today as the other three processes? Speciation only means the formation of new and distinct species by evolutionary process. So generation, variation, and selection don’t really allow for the “endless forms most beautiful” in the famous quote of Darwin, or do they? Speciation also implies the heritability attribute of evolution, so maybe both generation and speciation subsume the aspect of propagation in most biologists or at least Volk’s mind.

But an important question is, is specification implied by the other three, like three mathematical axioms implying a theorem, or is it independent of them? If you don’t have speciation, don’t you essentially just have one type of organism? Or would you just have a continuum of variation within the population, without any barriers for reproduction between them? I’ll admit that these questions are too complicated for me to answer at this time.

Getting back to Volk and combogenesis, he and others have argued that cultural change is an evolutionary process as well. Another important question then is, if speciation is fundamental to evolution, then is the differentiation of cultures fundamental to the evolutionary process of culture? If so, culture may never be ‘one thing’, and we will always have different cultures competing for dominance.

The competition of different cultures isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as perhaps they can also be pluralistically cooperative. And perhaps having multiple cultures are best in case the society heads down an evolutionary dead-end, longevity-wise. But still, this might be the reason that we will always have multiple cultures that just can’t agree, can’t get along, and can’t really live together.

You might hope that by language and reason, different societies and ideologies can bridge gaps in understanding. You might hope that good-will and morality might win out, and destructive vitriol will be held in check. You might indeed hope. But research has shown that people are very resistant to changing their minds once they think they are right. I think it has been shown that new types of media (I’m looking at you, internet) has exacerbated this problem to the n-th degree.

There is the fourfold Means and Ends (of course there is) that includes cooperation and competition, as well as conflict and coalition. It is based on looking at the compatibility and incompatibility of different means and ends. Even if you can’t have full cooperation, perhaps you can have (mere) competition or coalition within cultures, instead of out-and-out conflict. Perhaps the key is to find those common goals, and even those common values that might allow our factious society to move forward. But many others have said these types of things.

Interestingly, there are also four types of geographic biological speciation, so looking at these might give us clues as to what might be occurring for our speciation in cultural evolution (there’s a nice diagram at the Wikipedia entry). Do the same processes that produce species in the biological world also produce societal divergences in the cultural world? Are these processes the origins of tribes, nations, and even wars? Are there analogues of allopatric, peripatetic, parapatric, and sympatric speciation when considering different cultures and their conflict and cooperation?

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speciation

https://sciencing.com/four-factors-natural-selection-8140305.html

https://metapatterns.wikidot.com/nyusjm1-1:flott-evolution

https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/evo_43

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4816541/

https://www.nature.com/scitable/definition/speciation-183

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2012/06/08/the-theory-of-evolution/

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2015/12/30/means-and-ends/

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds

Continue reading Combogenesis and Evolution

Four Sociological Traditions

A blurb found on the web for this 1994 book:

The updated version of Collins’s critically-acclaimed Three Sociological Traditions, this text presents a concise intellectual history of sociology organized around the development of four classic schools of thought: the conflict tradition of Marx and Weber, the ritual solidarity of Durkheim,the microinteractionist tradition of Mead, Blumer, and Garfinkel, and–new to this edition–the utilitarian/rational choice tradition. Collins, one of the liveliest and most exciting writers in sociology today, traces the intellectual highlights of these four main schools from classical theories to current developments, introducing the roots of sociology and indicating the areas where progress has been made in our understanding, the areas where controversy still exists, and the direction in which sociology is headed.

Further Reading:

Randall Collins / Four Sociological Traditions

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Collins

https://equivalentexchange.blog/2015/11/16/the-four-requisites-of-randall-collins/

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Continue reading Four Sociological Traditions

Combogenesis: a constructive, emergent cosmos

I just finished reading Tyler Volk’s “Quarks to Culture: how we came to be”. In this book Volk outlines an interesting model for what he calls combo-genesis, a “great chain of being” leading from basic physical law up through the highest organizational structures that we know of, human societies. He traces a path through human knowledge: physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, sociology, etc., and I am reminded of E. O. Wilson’s “Consilience: the unity of knowledge” that argued for some of the same things.

But Volk’s work has some good new ideas. He details twelve hierarchical levels, where each level is constructed on a “lower” previous level, and the new “higher” level has new things and different abilities than its predecessor. These levels range from the level of fundamental quanta (the quarks of the title), to geo-political states (the culture of the title).

  • QUA: fundamental quanta
  • PRO: nucleons, which are protons and neutrons
  • NCL: atomic nuclei
  • ATM: atoms
  • MOL: molecules
  • PCL: prokaryotic cells
  • ECL: eukaryotic cells
  • ANI: multicellular organisms, including animals
  • ASG: animal social groups
  • HUM: human tribal meta-groups
  • AGR: agro-villages
  • STA: geo-political states

These levels are within three dynamical realms, the first realm being of physical laws and then those realms of biological and cultural evolution. Each of these realms has a base level that has a capability for great constructive and emergent potential via an “Alpha-kit”. An alpha-kit has two facets, an element set and a cornucopia set, that operate like an alphabet and the myriad combinations that that alphabet can produce.

Dynamical realms:

  • Realm of physical laws: QUA -> MOL
  • Realm of biological evolution PCL -> ASG
  • Realm of cultural evolution HUM -> STA

Base levels and their Alpha-kits:

  • QUA, means for chemistry and molecules (atomic)
  • PCL, mechanisms for biology and its evolution (genetic)
  • HUM, faculty for culture and its evolution (linguistic)

As Volk’s model has each higher level based on or constructed from the previous lower one, I make the following suggestion utilizing my four-fold Structure-Function. The structures of each lower level serve as the parts of the next higher level, and the functions of each lower level serve as the actions of the next higher level. In this way a chain of actions and parts, structures and functions are built giving different entities and capabilities to different operational domains.

In the diagram shown, the sets of structures (S) and functions (F) of level i are used for the sets of parts (P) and actions (A) of level i+1, so S(i)=>P(i+1) and F(i)=>A(i+1). Not all structural information or functional abilities are necessarily accessible in the higher level of parts and actions, similar to the information and method hiding in object-oriented programming, and so reducing overall complexity. And as I have argued before, parts are combined to create the structures and actions are combined to create the functions of each level, so P(i+1)=>S(i+1) and A(i+1)=>F(i+1). In this way we have a bottom-up combo-genesis leading from quarks to culture.

Are we now entering another dynamical realm, perhaps based on some technological or computational alpha-kit? But, unfortunately we have to ask, will it take us forwards or backwards?

Further Reading:

Tyler Volk / Quarks to Culture: how we came to be

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyler_Volk

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/how-quarks-turned-into-cultures/

http://www.integralworld.net/smith56.html

http://www.integralworld.net/visser114.html

https://inquisitivebiologist.wordpress.com/2019/03/06/book-review-quarks-to-culture-how-we-came-to-be/

Tyler Volk and Robert Wright discuss:

mol-2017-09-28-wright-volk

Edward O. Wilson / Consilience: the unity of knowledge

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consilience_(book)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consilience

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