|By Dave Allman | Excerpted from the September 2010 Socionomist|
[Ed: In this report, socionomist Dave Allman conducts a wide-ranging interview with John Casti – scholar, entrepreneur and author of numerous books, including the well-received socionomics primer Mood Matters. Allman and Casti discuss such issues as measures of social mood, the challenges for socionomics, and the theory as a forecasting tool. Excerpts of their conversation follow.]
Dave Allman: Hi, Dr. Casti. Thanks for joining us today.
John Casti: Thanks, Dave.
In Mission to Abisko (1997), you touched on something that you do very well—the popularization of science, making it accessible to the masses. Should this be a main goal of socionomists—to explain ideas in a “Popular Science” way?
I guess it depends on your tastes in these matters. As you mentioned, my own tastes are to make things as clear as possible. In fact, I have chosen most of my books’ topics not because I am an expert on them. Instead, I wanted to understand those questions more deeply myself. … Almost all the books I have written have that character. With socionomics, I received a lot of feedback on the manuscript . I kept sharpening my view of the whole topic. Eventually I was able to convey it with almost an outsider’s inside perspective. It was especially difficult in the case of socionomics because, as you know yourself, you have to ask people to suspend their disbelief about the way the world actually works. And that is a pretty tough requirement.
Especially for people who spent a small fortune to be indoctrinated into traditional economic thought, for example.
Right. I must have given in the order of 100 presentations about socionomics since my first article about it in New Scientist nine years ago. I’ve spoken about it in pretty much every corner of the world. Almost without exception, the reaction is very encouraging and positive. I think that Bob Prechter would probably tell you the same story. But, having people tell you, “Gee, it caused me to think differently about everything” is not the same thing as people saying, “I changed my mind about this particular belief I once held.” This notion that events cause people to feel a certain way or that events drive social mood is so deeply wired into the human mindset that it’s almost impossible for some people to abandon it. In fact, even though audiences on the whole are encouraging about socionomic observations, I have also had people in the audience who were so bothered and so troubled by the idea that underlies socionomics—that mood is the factor for events, not the other way around—that they were unable to even discuss the matter in a rational way. And these were academics, who are supposed to rely on scientific observation to arrive at their conclusions about the world. Some became angry and stomped out of the lecture room, some slamming the door on the way out.
Iben Browning was a brilliant climatologist who had some very good forecasts and some great insights, but of course the media built up an earthquake forecast he had made that did not materialize. Forever more they referred to Browning as the climatologist who forecast the earthquake that didn’t happen.
There are plenty of examples [like that one]. These days, most of the people who are serious about forecasting do not put themselves in the position to get trapped. Even if you had a 100 percent surefire method of forecasting specific events, which no one does, you would then face bigger challenges. Number one, whom do you tell? And number two, how do you get them to take action? These are not scientific questions. These are social, political and psychological issues that reside far outside the laboratory.
I am head of a project at our Institute that has the grand title of Extreme Events in Human Society. The focus of the project is to acquire insight into the likelihood of human-generated extreme events like the financial crises, terrorist attacks, political disturbances, revolutions, and so on. When I first set up this project I said, “We are not going to be in the business of making point-in-time forecasts like, ‘This country is going to have a revolution at this time and such-and-such a party is going to come into power.’” Such forecasts are lunacy; nobody can do that. To even hold out the prospect that you can borders on scientific fraud.
On the other hand, you can shed light on the environment within which events unfold and say that when the environment is in a certain state, it biases the likelihood or unlikelihood of events of a certain type. So for example, you can say that a revolution or terrorist attack is more likely to take place in a period when you have a particular social mood than at other times. This is why socionomics is very important. …
In the remainder of this eight-page transcript, learn where Casti believes socionomics research is heading. Discover what Casti considers the practical application of socionomics in business, and how you can use the theory to identify “turning points” – or changes in the trend.
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Most economists, historians and sociologists
presume that events determine society’s mood. But socionomics hypothesizes
the opposite: that social mood regulates the character of social events. The
events of history—such as investment booms and busts, political events,
macroeconomic trends and even peace and war—are the products of a naturally
occurring pattern of social-mood fluctuation. Such events, therefore, are not
randomly distributed, as is commonly believed, but are in fact probabilistically
predictable. Socionomics also posits that the stock market is the best available
meter of a society’s aggregate mood, that news is irrelevant to social
mood, and that financial and economic decision-making are fundamentally different
in that financial decisions are motivated by the herding impulse while economic
choices are guided by supply and demand. For more information about socionomic
theory, see (1) the text, The
Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior © 1999, by Robert Prechter;
(2) the introductory documentary History's
Hidden Engine; (3) the video Toward
a New Science of Social Prediction, Prechter’s 2004 speech before
the London School of Economics in which he presents evidence to support his
socionomic hypothesis; and (4) the Socionomics Institute’s website, www.socionomics.net.
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