ABM models for the COVID-19 pandemic

In an earlier post I mentioned that agent-based models provide a substantially different way of approaching the problem of pandemic modeling. ABM models are generative simulations of processes that work incrementally through the behavior of discrete agents; so modeling an epidemic using this approach is a natural application. In an important recent research effort Gianluca …

Explaining large historical change

Great events happen; people live through them; and both ordinary citizens and historians attempt to make sense of them. Examples of the kinds of events I have in mind include the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the USSR; the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s; the violent suppression of the Democracy …

Methods of causal inquiry

This diagram provides a map of an extensive set of methods of causal inquiry in the social sciences. The goal here is to show that the many approaches that social scientists have taken to discovering causal relationships have an underlying order, and they can be related to a small number of ontological ideas about social …

The place for thick theories of the actor in philosophy

  image: Bruegel, The Dutch Proverbs (1559)   When philosophers of the social sciences take seriously the importance of individual action within the social realm, we often look in the direction of methodological individualism and the methods of "aggregation dynamics". That is, agent-centered theorists are usually interested in finding ways of climbing the upward strut …

Cacophony of the social

Take a typical day in a major city -- a busy street with a subway stop, a park, a coffee bar, and a large consumer financial office. There are several thousand people in view, mostly in ones and twos. Some people are rushing to an appointment with a doctor, a job interview, a drug dealer …

Mechanisms according to analytical sociology

One of the distinguishing characteristics of analytical sociology is its insistence on the idea of causal mechanisms as the core component of explanation. Like post-positivists in other traditions, AS theorists specifically reject the covering law model of explanation and argues for a "realist" understanding of causal relations and powers: a causal relationship between x and y exists solely insofar …

ABM fundamentalism

image: Chernobyl control room Quite a few recent posts have examined the power and flexibility of ABM models as platforms for simulating a wide range of social phenomena. Joshua Epstein is one of the high-profile contributors to this field, and he is famous for making a particularly strong claim on behalf of ABM methods. He …

What parts of the social world admit of explanation?

image: John Dos Passos When Galileo, Newton, or Lavoisier confronted the natural world as “scientists,” they had in mind reasonably clear bodies of empirical phenomena that required explanation: the movements of material objects, the motions of the planets, the facts about combustion. They worked on the hope that nature conformed to a relatively small number …

Historical vs. sociological explanation

Think of the following matrix of explanatory possibilities of social and historical phenomena:   Vertically the matrix divides between historical and sociological explanations, whereas horizontally it distinguishes general explanations and particular explanations. A traditional way of understanding the distinction between historical and sociological explanations was to maintain that sociological explanations provide generalizations, whereas historical explanations …

Quantum mental processes?

One of the pleasant aspects of a long career in philosophy is the occasional experience of a genuinely novel approach to familiar problems. Sometimes one's reaction is skeptical at first -- "that's a crazy idea!". And sometimes the approach turns out to have genuine promise. I've had that experience of moving from profound doubt to …

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