Saturday, September 4, 2010

Quantum Soft Science

As our world becomes one with technology, it has also become one with the people running it. Contrary to what we all read in old sci-fi, the Computer Age has been more person-centric than machine-centric. And as our actions affect everyone more and more acutely, humanity has become something of a last frontier for scientific inquiry. Certainly that’s not to say that we understand all the “hard” sciences perfectly, but the “soft” sciences appear to have matured in our connected society.

A large part of the pop-soft-sci phenomenon leads back to economics. A journalist and an economist teamed up to write “Freakonomics” in 2005, which is a perfect example of the Quantum Soft Science trend. They take one ostensibly intractable problem (e.g. urban crime rates declining, for example), and explain it with an apparently left-field solution (abortion rates increasing). But, of course, the trend doesn’t end with economy.

Of course, sociology is a natural outlet for this kind of work. General interest magazines like Slate run sociologically-oriented articles all the time (see “How Black People Use Twitter”). Even the historical aspect of this field is analyzed—see Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel”.

The new psychology tells us about why wine taste is more related to cost than composition, and why marshmallow consumption can predict educational and vocational choices. And of course, there is the new linguistics, the new literary theory, and the new history.

All of these odd-fact-producing fields are driving toward one nigh-impossible goal: the prediction of human behavior. And one can see why that would be interesting. The unpredictability of humanity makes for some heavy socioeconomic turbulence, and limiting that unpredictability could have incredibly advantageous (or at least lucrative) effects.

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