What Can We Learn from the Theory of Dynamical Systems? Elements of a New Approach to the Social Sciences

Dr Ahmad Nazir Atassi
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A subject that has fallen out of fashion is the question whether social sciences are "true" sciences or not? Positivism has claimed that all is knowable and that it suffices to observe any phenomenon, social or physical, in order to discover its governing and unchanging laws. Both Durkheim and Weber assured us that societies, in the same way as biology or physics, are governed by such laws. Marx was not much different. Later, Quantum physics came to shatter the deterministic nature of our knowledge. More recently, chaos theory showed that even simple, apparently deterministic, systems can produce uncertainty.

However, attempts at transferring some ideas from the so-called "hard" sciences into the social sciences never ceased. Thomas Kuhn, in his The Structure of the Scientific Revolution, showed that even "hard sciences" depend on a subjective perspective he called "the paradigm". Manuel De Landa, in his A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History has attempted to apply results from the theory of nonlinear systems, of which chaos is a branch, to the field of history.

In my paper I reject the above two questions as ill-posed, thus unanswerable. I claim that there is no such thing as "real science" that exactly describes a "truth" that exists outside our minds. Our knowledge is a set of mental representations of these external realities.

My paper proposes elements of a general theory, inspired by the theory of systems, for the representation of social realities. This theory gives us tools to evaluate such general and hard to use concepts as civilization, ethnicity, religion, and culture.

It also offers a systematic way of approaching any social phenomenon for the sake of understanding or controlling it. The concepts and methodology introduced are illustrated using one example from the history of religions.

Keywords: Dynamical Systems, Epistemology, Social Theory
Stream: Knowledge, History, Historiography, Science, Environment and the Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr Ahmad Nazir Atassi

Graduate Student, History Department, University of California at Santa Barbara

Ref: H05P0336