# Is a mathematical model of history and Human Behavoir

Q: Can we create a mathematical, statistical model of Human Behavoir on a large scale, and use it to predict the broad historical sweep of the future?

In his novel “Foundation”, Issac Asimov describes a scientist named Hari Seldon, who creates something known as “Psychohistory”, defined as:

“That branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli.”

We say history repeats itself. Well could that be because there is a mathematical sructure to the behavoir of large groups of humans?

~Allen M. Prescott

Most likely, a model can be invented that accurately describes human behavior. However, human behavior is very complex, so I don’t think we’ll have such a model in the near future.

Too chaotic.
Unless you want to predict how chaotic it will be.

Like weather, human behavior would be subject to the butterfly effect

The key question is whether human behavoir is more like weather, a chaotic system that can not be predicted with any accurate over a long period of time, OR…
Is it more like the Kentic Theroy of Gases, where in the actions of one gas particle can not be predicted with any accuracy, BUT the actions of a group can be predicted.

Looking back at history, we see many things that make us say “This was bound to happen”, or “hey, something like this has happened more than once”.

Is this evidence that history/human behavoir on a large scale DOES follow certain rules and CAN be predicted?

The key question is whether human behavoir is more like weather, a chaotic system that can not be predicted with any accurate over a long period of time, OR…
Is it more like the Kentic Theroy of Gases, where in the actions of one gas particle can not be predicted with any accuracy, BUT the actions of a group can be predicted.

Looking back at history, we see many things that make us say “This was bound to happen”, or “hey, something like this has happened more than once”.

Is this evidence that history/human behavoir on a large scale DOES follow certain rules and CAN be predicted?

The difference between society and chaos theory, lets say predicting the weather, is that if you had a powerful enough computer and knew all the physical boundary conditions, you could predict the weather exactly. This is because you know the physics behind every molecule. The chaos comes in because there are so many molecules, that it is too difficult to solve. The molecules of society (people) however, are not always rational. It would be like trying to predict the weather while the laws of physics periodically change. Your butterfly, for no apparent reason, turns into an artichoke.

Not only that, but people would also be reacting to the physical environment, so you will also have to get a handle on predicting weather and such.

I would just like to add that Coursecant (sp?) from Star Wars is a rip-off of Trantor.

I’ve heard of a theory by the English mathematician Alex Turin (the guy who invented the first programmable computer ) that stated there can never be a mathematical model that can reproduce human judgement / common sense, hence artificial intelligence can never be created as a new life form. There was a big arguement about this but I don not know how it turned out.
This would make creating a model of large scale human interaction also impossible, according to him anyway.

I think you might mean Alan Turing.

Just 'cause the thread is worth the mileage, I’m going to take the opposite point of view.

Asimov, although apparently fully prepared to make a laughing stock of himself in the artificial intelligence community with his “robotic laws,” wasn’t so dim a mathematician as to ignore statistics. As I recall, and I haven’t a fear that I won’t be corrected if I’m wrong, the Foundation books did not hypothesize that human behavior was, in its normal state, predictable. The idea was that if a “Foundation” (get it?) were to change the rules so that unexpected events were surpressed, that what was left would be … uh… well… expected.

The idea that big changes in the world order is somewhat predictable isn’t new. Historians have noted that societies go through various familiar cycles. Asimov was suggesting that “familiar” might be manipulated to “predictable”.

This “butterflies can change the world” stuff is real cute, and it helps a bunch of weathermen complacient about their professional overconfidence 45 years ago, to be happy. But, dealing with modern realities, human volition stomps the “butterfly effect” flat. It isn’t that random events can’t have a big effect, it’s just that the more we recognize them, the more they fit within our planning. If they’re planned for, they become predictable. Confronted with a chaotic situation? Avoid it. Stop it.

Chaos theory doesn’t merely say that a small difference somewhere can create a different single result like one butterfly causing a storm.

Chaos theory says that given that this is the case, we’ve got a problem because we’ve got more than one butterfly, so we’d need to take every butterfly into account in order to make our predictions.

General “macro” predictions work fine in chaotic systems, and the discipline of Sociology applies this logic to the study of us, but most of it isn’t much more useful than saying “Yes we can predict the weather for the year 2006. Expect temperatures primarily in the double digit range throughout North America with scattered intermittent precipitation occasionally concentrated into storms, and variable winds.”

Some quants might disagree but as a student of sociological theories I thought about this question a good deal in my mis-spent youth. Ultimately, I don’t think you can truly predict (in a reliable paradigmatic sense) the specific course or direction of human society (ies) over time because of the “x” factors or unknowns involved with the impact of unpredictable advances in various technologies and the cascading and interacting effects these will have over time on billions of monkeys with car keys.

And of course, suppose you finally write your complete model of large scale human behavior. You publish it all in all the scientific journals and win the Nobel Prize. But, since people can now predict large scale human behavior, they start acting on that knowledge. And suddenly the model doesn’t work any more!

That’s in part what Asimov was getting at.
The trick here is to make a model that people dont want to–or aren’t able to–disagree with. The Foundation plan was a combination of these. People who wanted to belong to the Foundation and help its goals, people who didn’t understand the Foundation, its math, but wanted to help the goals they understood, people who were hostile, but didn’t understand enough about what the Foundation was doing to stop it…
Of course, their will be people like me (and you?), who were unwilling to let others control our destiny in directions they wouldn’t even tell us about.
Then it becomes a matter of whether they could predict us and stop us. Or thwart us. Or change our mind.

I’ve always wondered about this fact. I’ve heard of people working on programs that would figure out what was going to happen in the stock market. Once such programs become even slightly popular they will effect the market to such an extent that they will stop being effective. It would be interesting to think about what would happen once they were 100% in use, but that probably won’t happen.

that is not quite an accurate discription of all non-linear chaotic systems. Even a three particle system can behave chaotically. The reason it becomes difficult to predict further in the future is that you have to know the starting parameters more and more accurately. E.g to predict their positions after 1 day you may only need to know their velocity and speed to 1% accuracy. But for 5 days time you need to know it to 0.000000001%. Obviously shear measurement accuracy, quantum effects etc mean that there is an upper limit to prediction.

I do think general history is chaotic. Imagine if Hitler got a bullet in the head in WW1. You can’t tell me the world would look anything like it does now.

The idea that a computer program could “figure out” the stock market is far-fetched in a different way than Foundation, because the goal is always the same: make money. That means everybody’s trying to get the same thing, outguess and hoodwink everyone else. It might sound like this makes the problem easier, but in a way it’s harder, because it’s emotional and close to a “zero sum game”. Give or take 8% a year.
With the Foundation, everybody might be a winner, or nearly everyone except the Foundation a loser. The Foundation’s goals were unstated, and largely unguessed, which gave them an edge (…you might call it Foundation’s Edge…)
Even so it’s definitely the sort of situation the Foundation would have trouble with, because in a stock market people pretend they’re being rational one moment, then sell or buy in a panic when the wind changes. For Foundation planners, many things stay predicatable for years: people only have so many professions, usually only move every few years, develop dietary habits that can last for decades, often belong to the same political party most of their lives…

It is quite possible to make money modelling the stock market. The problem comes soon, because if you are very successful, then you start to influence the market. That sort of feedback then becomes a cause of instability.

It’s possible to model other people who are playing models, not the stock market at large. When you’re playing against someone else’s model, you don’t have to be right about economics, just about their model. For example, supposing you discover I always buy on rainy days, and always sell on sunny days. You could write a computer program for that. But if I bought on days I felt positive about business signs you knew nothing about, your model would just be looking at the results, not the cause. And if I took a sufficient number of factors in account, a model would not work. Or are you saying a computer program can outreason even the greatest expert in a field?