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Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another

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Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Are there "natural laws" that govern the ways in which humans behave and organize themselves, just as there are physical laws that govern the motions of atoms and planets? Unlikely as it may seem, such laws now seem to be emerging from attempts to bring the tools and concepts of physics into the social sciences. These new discoveries are part of an old tradition. In the seventeenth century the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, dismayed by the impending civil war in England, decided that he would work out what kind of government was needed for a stable society. His solution sparked a new way of thinking about human behavior in looking for the "scientific" rules of society.

Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, and John Stuart Mill pursued this idea from different political perspectives. But these philosophers lacked the tools that modern physics can now bring to bear on the matter. Philip Ball shows how, by using these tools, we can understand many aspects of mass human behavior. Once we recognize that we do not make most of our decisions in isolation but are affected by what others decide, we can start to discern a surprising and perhaps even disturbing predictability in our laws, institutions, and customs.

Lively and compelling, Critical Mass is the first book to bring these new ideas together and to show how they fit within the broader historical context of a rational search for better ways to live.

Review:

"Ball (an NBCC award finalist for Bright Earth) enthusiastically demonstrates how the application of the laws of modern physics to the social sciences can greatly enrich our understanding of the laws of human behavior: we can, he says, make predictions about society without negating the individual's free will. He opens his lucid and compelling study with an account of Thomas Hobbes's mechanistic political philosophy and shows how Adam Smith, Kant, Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill expanded on Hobbes's scientific but anti-utopian theories of government and society. Ball notes a return to such a scientific view of the social sciences in the past two decades, and he examines the application of physical laws to economics, politics, even the inevitable synchronization of a theater audience's applause. First, he exhaustively details the development of key concepts in contemporary physics, such as self-organization, phase transitions, flocking behavior, chaos, bifurcation points, preferential attachment networks and evolutionary game theory. Next, he shows how social scientists apply these concepts to the study of human organization. Ball's primary assertion is that we must attend to the relationship between global phenomena and local actions. In other words, noticing the impact of individual decisions on laws and institutions is more worthwhile than trying to predict the behavior of individuals (as Ball's discussion of the logic of voting habits makes all too clear). Ball's carefully argued disagreements with conventional economic theory make for particularly engaging reading. Nonspecialist readers who enjoy a steep learning curve will relish the thought-provoking discussions Ball provides. Photos, illus. Agent, Russ Galen. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"[I]ntriguing....A highly provocative work of popular science." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"Ball has written an elegant synthesis that goes a long way toward illuminating why physicists are exploring social questions and the implications of their work." Library Journal

Synopsis:

Ball shows how much can be understood of human behavior when we cease to predict and analyze the behavior of individuals and instead look to the impact of individual decisions — whether in circumstances of cooperation or conflict — on our laws, institutions and customs.

Synopsis:

Are there any "laws of nature" that influence the ways in which humans behave and organize themselves? In the seventeenth century, tired of the civil war ravaging England, Thomas Hobbes decided that he would work out what kind of government was needed for a stable society. His approach was based not on utopian wishful thinking but rather on Galileo's mechanics to construct a theory of government from first principles. His solution is unappealing to today's society, yet Hobbes had sparked a new way of thinking about human behavior in looking for the "scientific" rules of society.

Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, and John Stuart Mill pursued this idea from different political perspectives. Little by little, however, social and political philosophy abandoned a "scientific" approach. Today, physics is enjoying a revival in the social, political and economic sciences. Ball shows how much we can understand of human behavior when we cease to try to predict and analyze the behavior of individuals and instead look to the impact of individual decisions-whether in circumstances of cooperation or conflict-can have on our laws, institutions and customs.

Lively and compelling, Critical Mass is the first book to bring these new ideas together and to show how they fit within the broader historical context of a rational search for better ways to live.

About the Author

Philip Ball is the author of Life's Matrix (FSG, 2000); Bright Earth (FSG, 2002), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and, most recently, The Devil's Doctor (FSG, 2006). He lives in London with his wife.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780374281250
Subtitle:
How One Thing Leads to Another
Author:
Ball, Philip
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Subject:
Ethics & Moral Philosophy
Subject:
Sociology - General
Subject:
Peace
Subject:
Sociology - Social Theory
Subject:
General science
Subject:
System Theory
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20060516
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes 90 Black-and-White Illustration
Pages:
528
Dimensions:
8.27 x 5.44 x 1.45 in

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Sociology » General

Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another Used Hardcover
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Product details 528 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374281250 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Ball (an NBCC award finalist for Bright Earth) enthusiastically demonstrates how the application of the laws of modern physics to the social sciences can greatly enrich our understanding of the laws of human behavior: we can, he says, make predictions about society without negating the individual's free will. He opens his lucid and compelling study with an account of Thomas Hobbes's mechanistic political philosophy and shows how Adam Smith, Kant, Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill expanded on Hobbes's scientific but anti-utopian theories of government and society. Ball notes a return to such a scientific view of the social sciences in the past two decades, and he examines the application of physical laws to economics, politics, even the inevitable synchronization of a theater audience's applause. First, he exhaustively details the development of key concepts in contemporary physics, such as self-organization, phase transitions, flocking behavior, chaos, bifurcation points, preferential attachment networks and evolutionary game theory. Next, he shows how social scientists apply these concepts to the study of human organization. Ball's primary assertion is that we must attend to the relationship between global phenomena and local actions. In other words, noticing the impact of individual decisions on laws and institutions is more worthwhile than trying to predict the behavior of individuals (as Ball's discussion of the logic of voting habits makes all too clear). Ball's carefully argued disagreements with conventional economic theory make for particularly engaging reading. Nonspecialist readers who enjoy a steep learning curve will relish the thought-provoking discussions Ball provides. Photos, illus. Agent, Russ Galen. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "[I]ntriguing....A highly provocative work of popular science."
"Review" by , "Ball has written an elegant synthesis that goes a long way toward illuminating why physicists are exploring social questions and the implications of their work."
"Synopsis" by , Ball shows how much can be understood of human behavior when we cease to predict and analyze the behavior of individuals and instead look to the impact of individual decisions — whether in circumstances of cooperation or conflict — on our laws, institutions and customs.
"Synopsis" by ,
Are there any "laws of nature" that influence the ways in which humans behave and organize themselves? In the seventeenth century, tired of the civil war ravaging England, Thomas Hobbes decided that he would work out what kind of government was needed for a stable society. His approach was based not on utopian wishful thinking but rather on Galileo's mechanics to construct a theory of government from first principles. His solution is unappealing to today's society, yet Hobbes had sparked a new way of thinking about human behavior in looking for the "scientific" rules of society.

Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte, and John Stuart Mill pursued this idea from different political perspectives. Little by little, however, social and political philosophy abandoned a "scientific" approach. Today, physics is enjoying a revival in the social, political and economic sciences. Ball shows how much we can understand of human behavior when we cease to try to predict and analyze the behavior of individuals and instead look to the impact of individual decisions-whether in circumstances of cooperation or conflict-can have on our laws, institutions and customs.

Lively and compelling, Critical Mass is the first book to bring these new ideas together and to show how they fit within the broader historical context of a rational search for better ways to live.

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