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The First Steps Towards Asimov's Psychohistory? 293

lawrencekhoo writes "The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting article about the Gottman Institute's (a.k.a. the love lab) work on modeling the dynamics of marital conversations. These models are described in John Gottman et. al.'s recent book The Mathematics of Marriage: Dynamic Nonlinear Models (MIT Press). Should be an interesting read for anyone who ever wondered if human interactions could be mathematically modeled."
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The First Steps Towards Asimov's Psychohistory?

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  • by mao che minh ( 611166 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:14PM (#5805769) Journal
    "...modeling the dynamics of marital conversations.."

    Most marital conversations I witness involve ditching the kids, how much the man drank with his buddies last night, why the hell is he always looking at her bimbo sister with big boobs, and for what reason did the woman decide that it would be a good idea to pay $100 for that purse.

    • Only $100 for a purse? I should be so lucky.
    • by TibbonZero ( 571809 ) <Tibbon@nOsPam.gmail.com> on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:31PM (#5805853) Homepage Journal
      on the purse...
      (Never let her find a Gucci store in the area)
    • by infinite9 ( 319274 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:52PM (#5805954)
      Unmarried huh? You almost got it.

      What she says:

      1. How do we ditch the kids?

      2. Why do you pay more attention to your buddies than me?

      3. Why do you pay more attention to that computer than me?

      4. Do you think that woman's attractive?

      5. I can pay $100 for a new purse, but you can't pay $49.95 for a new game (see #3)

      6. You don't care about my feelings.

      7. You're not sensitive to my needs.

      8. Why don't you do something constructive.

      9. Rub my feet.

      10. Do we have to do that again? Why can't we just cuddle?

      What I say:

      1. How do we ditch the kids?

      2. Would you please stop grooming me!

      3. Would you please stop parking in the dead center of the garage!

      4. Would you please stop falling asleep in the dead center of the bed!

      5. Not everything is cooked on 10.

      6. For the last time, here's how to use the tivo.

      • Hmm... this sounds SOOOO familiar.
      • Re:The married life (Score:2, Interesting)

        by bigberk ( 547360 )

        How do we ditch the kids?

        I don't understand what's the deal with this. In my family we don't talk of ditching kids, we talk of helping kids become strong, useful members of society.

        If the kids are such a problem, it's because you made them a problem. Or do you not raise your own kids?

        In a lot of countries (Japan comes to mind) children and their education are highly valued. Young people are respected and grow up respecting the rest of their family. As a result, they take care of their parents when

        • Re:The married life (Score:3, Informative)

          by plalonde2 ( 527372 )
          More like ditch the kids so we can get some "us" time

          Slashdot bachelors might not understand this concept.

        • I don't understand what's the deal with this. In my family we don't talk of ditching kids, we talk of helping kids become strong, useful members of society.

          Disclaimer=-- I am not yet married, though I am engaged to be. Nor at this time do I have kids, but I remember being a kid ;-)

          2 points:

          1: Marriages require attention and time you can devote to them. Having some "us" time can be vital to the maintenance of a marriage. It is not about ditching the kids....

          2: If the kids have some responsible ten
      • I'm young and arrogant and married so here are my answers.

        1. How do we ditch the kids?
        Give them something interesting to do, hire a babysitter. Many things can be fun with kids along too.

        2. Why do you pay more attention to your buddies than me?
        Don't pay more attention to them, you need "quality time" with your wife & family. You should have some compatible interests.

        3. Why do you pay more attention to that computer than me?
        see #2

        4. Do you think that woman's attractive?
        Yes, I do. What's with a bit of
      • by Anonymous Coward
        4. Do you think that woman's attractive?

        "What woman?"
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I always get the last word in a marital conversation.... "Yes, dear"
  • non-register link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:14PM (#5805770)
    Here [chronicle.com].
    • Yes, thank you for the link. I skimmed through the article looking for the functions. The juicy stuff is towards the end of the article. The basic thesis of the article turns out to be that <obvious>the marriage is likely to be successful if the partners have similar functions</obvious>.

      Reminds me of some wisdom I once gleaned from /usr/games/fortune:

      After decades of research, a consensus has been reached in the field of Sociology: Some do; Some don't.

      Basically these researchers a

      • The juicy stuff is towards the end of the article. The basic thesis of the article turns out to be that the marriage is likely to be successful if the partners have similar functions.

        That's not quite what it said. Key is not having similar functions, but compatible functions. Either strong response to whatever you spouse does tends to work, as long as it's on both sides.. Or being (somewhat) nice even when the partner's being difficult works. And, ahem, ignoring or not being able to respond never works. As

    • 1.Mine Relationship Data
      2.Create a formula that seems to fit the equation
      3. ????
  • by stendec ( 582696 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:15PM (#5805777)
    Well I can't seem to log into the article, so I'll give a guess as to what it says...

    Researcher1: Is there anything to marital conversations other than shouting at the spouse?

    Researcher2: NEVER! There's only one way to win a conversation: shout, shout, and shout again!!

    Researcher1: You don't think that understanding and compromise have anything to do with it?

    Researcher2: NO! It's all down to shouting. WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHH!!!

  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by still_sick ( 585332 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:16PM (#5805778)
    "Should be an interesting read for anyone who ever wondered if human interactions could be mathematically modeled."

    Finally, an answer to the question that has kept me awake at night tossing and turning for the past 17 years!
  • The SIMS (Score:5, Funny)

    by kermyt ( 99494 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:16PM (#5805779) Homepage
    Mathmatical modeling of human relationships?
    I thought that was the Sims!
  • Psychohistory? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:18PM (#5805793)
    Didn't Asimov's psychohistory require are certain minimum population (like 8 billion or something) before the methods were effective? IIRC knowledge of psychohistory was also supposed to affect the outcome in unpredictable ways.

    Just goes to show how research dollars are being wasted these days. How about asking the couples why they split up. Or better yet, face the truth: Our overpaid, spoiled population has unreastic expectations about marriage and life, and they'll continue to be miserable, materialistics wretches until the day they drop dead while choking on a cheeseburger.

    Fourth Post!
    • Re:Psychohistory? (Score:5, Informative)

      by gonzo_bozo ( 652898 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:24PM (#5805823)
      Yep. Here's what the master said:

      "Psychohistory dealt not with man, but with man-masses. It was the science of mobs; mobs in their billions. It could forecast reactions to stimuli with something of the accuracy that a lesser science could bring to the forecast of a rebound of a billiard ball. The reaction of one man could be forecast by no known mathematics; the reaction of a billion is something else again."
      • No more elections!!!
        Based on the rapid improvements psychohistory has made and based on the recent Florida fiascos, the government has taken a decision to abolish elections
        You don't need to vote.We know whom you want to choose.Don't waste my time , I got some work on my army
      • In Men In Black, the other guy says "A person is smart, but people are stupid, panicky and predictable".

        Or something.

      • Re:Psychohistory? (Score:2, Informative)

        by lefthand50 ( 468192 )
        Ironically, the fourth book, the Foundation's Edge, Asimov counters this statement. The basic premise of the book is that the Second Foundation'ers on Trevise are able to alter one girl's brain to influence and predict her behavior, setting up a chain of events thoughout the book.
      • I suspect that Asimov would have written it differently in light of the progress in mathematical models of non-linear systems. The idea that while you might not be able to predict individual behavior, but you might predict mass behavior has its roots in linear statistical models and the averaging that is facilitated by large samples.

        The truth is that non-linear systems, particularly when they involve large energy flows and/or positive feedback behave in ways that cannot be captured by statistics and aver

    • Correct! (Score:2, Informative)

      by Trillan ( 597339 )

      Asimov's psychohistory was the study of mob mechanics.

      Pyschohistory is better explained in the tail of the Robot series and the prequels to the Foundation series than in the "main" Foundation series itself.

    • Re:Psychohistory? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sasami ( 158671 )
      How about asking the couples why they split up.

      You're kidding, right? If people had the faintest ability to accurately answer that kind of questions, they wouldn't have the problem in the first place.

      Dum de dum.
      • Um. I know why we broke up. Because she was an insufferable bitch.

        How would that knowledge have kept us from having the problem in the first place?

  • I suspect that it will mostly be a series of conditional probabilities. I knew him at the U. of Illinois, when I was starting out as a grad student. I first met him when he was trying to get an IBM XT working for my advisor (who was the ultimate anti-geek). Neither Gottman nor his grad student could access the hard disk to load any software. He recommended my advisor return the thing because "the hard disk was broke." My advisor asked me to look at it. I'd never used IBM/DOS before, just my trusty A
  • Erm. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I can't see the article since it's registered users only, but if I recall correctly didn't Asimov's idea involve mathematics applied to the behavior of LARGE numbers of people? How does this apply?

    Interestingly enough, I sort of think such a system might be developed, at least enough to make rough approximations about future trends, but there are limiting factors:

    1. The population under study must remain unaware of the analysis, or the analysis itself has an influence. Think of it as the Heisenberg unc
    • I can't see the article since it's registered users only, but if I recall correctly didn't Asimov's idea involve mathematics applied to the behavior of LARGE numbers of people? How does this apply?

      It applies because the guys that post stories at Slashdot don't give a flying fuck whether they get any part of it right.
  • by Michael's a Jerk! ( 668185 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:24PM (#5805826) Homepage Journal
    Here is An Interesting Essay [objectivethought.com] on Psychohistory, discussing how it could be achieved.
  • by seldolivaw ( 179178 ) <me@s[ ]o.com ['eld' in gap]> on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:30PM (#5805851) Homepage
    And even Asimov admitted it. The theory was as follows: although individuals and small groups of people are impossible to predict, large groups of people will, statistically, behave in a predictable way to the given conditions. Thus, by modelling the influences on large groups of people, you can predict their reactions, and thus predict the future course of social history.

    This has a lot of intuitive weight. A few weirdos may do unusual things, but the society does seem fairly predictable. However, there's loads of things it doesn't take into account.

    Most important is statistical probability. Even if you base all your decisions on 95% probability results, the probability of you being right every time gets lower as you go along. In fact, after just 14 decisions like that, the probability is less than 50%. In the Foundation saga, Hari Seldon (a favourite of mine, obviously) uses psychohistory to predict events hundreds of years into the future -- which couldn't happen, even with only 1 decision to predict per year. In the books, Asimov resolves this using the Second Foundation, who (secretly) guide the progress of society to make sure everything goes to plan.

    The second is, simply, new ideas. You can base a model of future history on populations and variables if they are known; but with the future there are too many unknowns. What if someone invents a new weapon? Or faster ships, meaning planets get colonised faster than you expected? Or new medicines come out, increasing life expectancies enormously? Or conversely, what if we lose some of the technologies we have now? The kind of prediction in psychohistory only works in a stagnant model.

    Again, you can fix this using the Second Foundation bodge, so the books are believable. But the science itself is just not rational.
    • by Frostalicious ( 657235 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:39PM (#5805901) Journal
      Most important is statistical probability. Even if you base all your decisions on 95% probability results, the probability of you being right every time gets lower as you go along. In fact, after just 14 decisions like that, the probability is less than 50%.

      You don't have to be right every time to predict trends. If we are flipping a coin, I have only a 50% of predicting the next flip. But I can be quite confident saying that after 200 flips, you are going to get about 100 heads. More repetitions work in my favor, and I can predict more accurately.

      Statistics supports your first statement, it doesn't detract from it.
      • by buyo-kun ( 664999 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:46PM (#5805929)
        Statistics supports your first statement, it doesn't detract from it.

        Actually, I'm pretty sure you're wrong, the thing is, when you're flipping a coin the past results don't effect the future results. In psychohistory, the past effects the future, so if you predict a city falling, and a new city coming into existence and making a war fleet and the city never falls, just by chance, it messes up your results causing your plans to mess up.
      • Nobody cares about averages here, you are supposed to predict the future, as in the order in which the coins will land as time passes. If you miss the order the results will vary to a great degree.

        In other words, you could easily predict the NEXT coin flip (i keep on using the coin flip, but i am thinking on the physchohistory of humankind, so this experiments are NOT radom as in a normal coin flip) with near 100% accuracy. But you cannot predict the 10000 coin flip, because to predict that coin flip you'l
    • It's been a while since I read the series, but it seems to me that at a certain point, Seldon's predictions failed precisely because of the probabilities involved. I never saw the second foundation as a "bodge" however. It seems pretty intuitive to me that when a science is developed, people will continue to work on it - hasn't that been the case with most things? And the idea that the second foundation should be secret is really just a manifestation that knowledge of an observer changes behavior. And l
    • by abhinavnath ( 157483 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @12:07AM (#5806013)
      Psychohistory was intended to be exactly analogous to thermodynamics. Both sciences study particles whose individual behavior cannot be predicted, and both are inherently based on statistical mechanics.

      Now thermodynamics only works because the number of particles in any real-world system is so mindnumbingly large. If we tried to predict the behavior of only (!) a million or a billion particles, you're right, the errors would add up pretty quickly. But by using a sufficiently large sample size, we give the system so many states that deviations from the average become essentially neglible.

      When Asimov conceived of psychohistory, one of the most important characteristics of the science was that the sample size needed to be inconceivably large - quadrillions of people spread over half a million worlds. IIRC, this was in fact one of Hari Seldon's first postulates. (The second was that the people in the system could not be allowed to learn that their actions were predictable.)

      Also consider that psychohistory was not used primarily to predict the actions of the Foundation: the sample size was too small and the Foundationers knew they were being tampered with. Psychohistory was used instead to analyze the future of the Empire in general and the barbarian kingdoms of the periphery in particular.

      As you might have guessed I'm a big fan of the books and all of Asimov's writings. His writing style was not what you would call sublime, but you can't beat his production of great ideas and well-conceived universes.
      • When Asimov conceived of psychohistory...
        As you might have guessed I'm a big fan of the books and all of Asimov's writings. His writing style was not what you would call sublime, but you can't beat his production of great ideas and well-conceived universes.

        N.b.: Asimov didn't conceive of psychohistory; it was his editor who supplied that backbone and told Asimov to go off and write a story around it.

    • by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @12:41AM (#5806144)
      Even if you ignore the declining probability it still doesn't work. The problem is that is works with mob phsycology but forgets that mobs are usually led.

      What would of happened if Hitler was killed in WWI?
      The rise of Nazis easily may not of happened if Hitler wasn't there or if the Nazi's had a leader who was a little more sane they may of won the war.

      What if the Soviet leader didn't yield during the Cuban missle Crisis?
      Maybe nuclear was.

      What if Napolean or Genghis Khan never existed?
      Would their nations still have fought the wars they did? What if Napolean got more sleep band made some better military decisions?

      What if Washington was a nutcase and the US was a third world nation today? (assume Canada didn't conquer them ;)

      Heck what if somebody if Florida knew how to design a ballot and Bush wasn't elected?
      How different would the current world situation be, maybe Iraq wouldn't of been invaded, maybe even 9/11 wouldn't have happened.

      When it comes down to it the path of society is decided by individuals. Sure for things to occur some pre-existing social conditions have to be there (government in complete disorder in Germany and county broke). But a HUGE amount depends on the whims of powerful individuals. I can't see psycohistory working.

      On the other hand some general rules on crowd control and being able to control some powerful people could be very useful.. Conspiracy theory anyone?
    • I think you didn't do so well in stats. :)

      I'm probably just nit-picking though.

      If you make 40 decisions of 95% probability, and they were all right, you still have a 95% chance of being right the next time still.

      What you meant to say is given 40 decisions, choosing a an answer that is 95% right will only give you 50% chance of being right all 40 times.

      I have to keep telling people this. If you flip a coin a million times, and lands on heads every time, you still have a 50% chance of landing on heads th
      • I have to keep telling people this. If you flip a coin a million times, and lands on heads every time, you still have a 50% chance of landing on heads the next time. If you say you are going to flip the coin a million + 1 times, the chances of not getting tails once is astronomical.

        Actually, if it comes up heads a million times, I'd say there's a good chance that the coin isn't 'fair' anymore. :)

        But I know what you mean. So if you meet a family with three children, and you don't know the gender, but two
        • Actually it's not quite 50/50, but close enough for government work. Last time I saw the statistics, boys were slightly more common births, but girls had a better chance of surviving. Source? My faulty memory of an article sometime in the past few years. [shrug]
          • I heard an argument that there would be 75% chance of a boy. It's because you don't know the birth order. There are eight combinations of sexes for three siblings; MMM, MMF, MFM, MFF, FMM, FMF, FFM, FFF.

            If all you know is that there are two girls, the only options left are MFF, FMF, FFM, and FFF. And in 75% of the cases, the third sibling is a boy.
      • Yes, I was aware when writing that I should have been clearer about what I meant by a 50% probability... but then, it's Slashdot, so I also knew some math geek would pop out of the woodwork to add an informative comment about how statistics works to my own, so I needn't bother. Isn't /. wonderful? :-)
    • Again, you can fix this using the Second Foundation bodge, so the books are believable. But the science itself is just not rational.

      I'm not defending the science here, but please remember that the absense of proof doesn't always mean it is impossible. For example, the "state of the art" is laughably imprecise right now. Often predictions are often made just a few months into the future.

      For a bolder approach, check out the Foresight Exchange [ideosphere.com]. It's a reputation-based betting market that trades on a coup

    • But Asimov always spoke of the future (in his novels) as malleable. For instance, when Hari Seldon (in the novels) appears at certain dates, you hear him say things like, "Well, by all probablility..." and "You *should* be here at..." In other words, he always treated Psychohistory as a fluid art.

      He obviously sets this up as a near 'unbreakable' device so that a character like the Mule comes along and destroys it. It made for a good story - forget the science. For more science to your fiction see Arthur C.
  • by jspoon ( 585173 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:33PM (#5805866)
    What kind of slide rule did they use?
  • by djeaux ( 620938 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:33PM (#5805870) Homepage Journal
    ...if human interactions could be mathematically modeled...
    Given enough data, computing type & grant funding, 99 monkeys can develop an empirical mathematical model for almost anything. The words "dynamic" & "nonlinear" suggest to me that Gottman's model isn't particularly elegant, just a mishmash to make the data fit a formulaic format.

    Lies! Damned lies! Statistics!

    Or to quote Jimmy Buffett, "I don't want that much organization in my life! I want Junior Mints!"

  • by gusnz ( 455113 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:34PM (#5805875) Homepage
    (BTW: a working link [chronicle.com])

    scoring each sentence and facial expression on such measures as disgust (-3), affection (+4), whining (-1), and contempt (-4).

    Aargh! They've discovered the Slashcode 3.0 moderation system! Someone stop them before it's too late!
    • Woudn't that be a violation of the DMCA since we Moderators encode secret conspiratoritail messages in our Moderations? ... Forget I just said that.

      However, hasn't this system and similar been used to model reactions in basic AI in video games for years? Fun meter, anyone? Or even the rating scale used by persons undergoing psychiatric (sp?) treatment to score their mood each morning?

      It strikes me that any system that attempts to simplify so many variables is more of a kludge approach than anything that s
  • by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:35PM (#5805877)
    It simply isn't possible to nail down all of the variables in advance, or even as events occur. Either economics or chaos theory will demonstrate that pretty clearly. The problem is that we can forecast general trends into the near future. The fewer variables we introduce and the shorter the time frame, the more accurate we can be. Marital conversations are quite predictable in many cases. The reasons are trivially obvious. Some marriages have unresolved issues that keep coming up. But even a good marriage without baggage involves two people dealing with day-to-day life, which involves tackling the same questions repeatedly:

    "So, should we go to the beach for our vacation this year?"

    "Yes, and don't forget to schedule enough time at Thanksgiving to visit both of our families."
    • It simply isn't possible to nail down all of the variables in advance, or even as events occur. Either economics or chaos theory will demonstrate that pretty clearly.

      In nonlinear/chaotic systems, errors in the initial conditions quickly expand, causing huge deviations on a macro scale. This is why long-term weather prediction is impossible. James Gleick mentions in his excellent book Chaos that a lattice of weather sensors, spaced just one foot apart all over the surface of the earth and up through the
  • by Hubert_Shrump ( 256081 ) <cobranet AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:35PM (#5805880) Journal
    This will kick open the doors for plenty of old-school D&D action!

    Wife attacks! You are wounded in the (rolls die) pride.

    Don drunkenness.

    Roll die for level of drunkenness.


    Your wounds' severity subsides.

    Go out in shop, try to put lawnmower back together.

    Wife follows! She is on the phone with your sister! Sister attacks!

  • GNOME.


    Each seemingly (at times) at odds, each carefully planned by a shadowy and secret originator to ensure that the job each thinks is its own will (we hope) be done.

    But marital conversations? No. That's just too far out.
  • by ArmorFiend ( 151674 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:47PM (#5805936) Homepage Journal
    I do apply a semi-algorithmic approach to dealing with my girlfriend. I find it works very well.

    Sometimes she tries to step in and run my life. Sometimes she assumes her priorities should override my priorities. When that happens I express what is important to me, and stick to my guns.

    Other times, and frankly more often, I don't have priorities of my own, and I'm happy to let her have her way.

    Still other times, I try to get her to prioritize my concerns above her own. When that happens, she usually tells me to get bent. This is good.

    When there are attempts to control some issue, I try to quantify how important it is to me, and how important it is to her, and let that be my guide. Its important to rely on one's own internal assessment of priority, because of course if you ask her how important something is, its typically infinity. ; )

    God and/or monkeys created each of us to live OUR OWN LIVES. I see many people screw up their lives because they try to live for someone else (or worse yet, something else). This results in lost years and stunted freaky damage. Ya gots to get out there and defend yo turf, man.
  • So...would analyzing marriage conversations be like this?

    Lyndsey Nagle: Why not both, then everybody's happy.
    CBG: Oh yeah, everyone's real happy then.
    Lyndsey Nagle: Do I detect a note of sarcasm?
    Professor Frink: (With sarcasm detector) Are you kidding? This baby is off the charts mm-hai.
    (Sarcasm detector explodes)
    Courtesy of The Simpsons Archive [snpp.com]
  • First Step? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jason1729 ( 561790 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:50PM (#5805947)
    Psychohistory is essentially Econometric Modeling, I took an undergrad course on that. The prof even mentioned that it was the same idea as Asimov's Psychohistory.

    Even if Econometrics is much less precise or sophisticated, it is still a lot more than a first step towards it, and compared to Econometrics, the article is nothing.

    ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]
    • You are missing something, to have an econometric model the right way, you must first have a teory. if you do not have a theory you can't use econometrics to prove or disprove your theory. Steps for an econometric model:

      - Present your theory or thesis
      - Present the stochastic econmetric model you'll use to test it's validity
      - Estimate coefficients
      - Accept or reject your hipotesis (or refine your theory and go pack to the beggining)
      - Predict

      It has been proved that you make relly great but meaningless econom
      • There was a little passage in _Friday_ (by Heinlein) about this.. dresses and stock market, beard length and the price of gold, or some such.
  • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:54PM (#5805961) Journal
    You can not know how they think logically or mathmatically. They are an unkown.

    Of course they are responsible for %100 of the problems in a relationship. Since men are perfect and think rationally the problem can not be with us. We all know the truth here.

    I think the mathmatically answer is easy. If a+ rand(time(0))!=b then a=b. Or let A live alone and use porn to cure sexual fustration.

  • by Silent_E ( 592458 ) <emrigsby@@@yahoo...com> on Thursday April 24, 2003 @11:57PM (#5805973) Journal
    I tend to be sceptical of modeling subjective things like emotions. But there are lots of behaviors that are actually modelable, like voting, for example. I wonder if what it is really modeling is gender programming?

    What I mean by that is at our least thoughtful, we all have fairly typical reactions that are culturally received. I can't think of a single time that the "toilet seat" conversation ("Why did you/ do men leave the toilet seat up/ why do men always.../why do women always complain about...") doesn't degenerate into a whole list of wrongs that each sex has done to the other, even when people of the same sex are having the conversation. I suspect that conversations like that, that tend to follow fairly typical patterns are easily modeled. And since psychology can alrady model aspects of emotional display fairly acurately, it isn't that far to modeling culturally patterned converstations.
  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @12:07AM (#5806012) Journal
    Here's the key to writing married people:

    Everything the man says revolves around wanting more and better sex, justifying his choice of woman.

    Everything the woman says revolves around wanting more money and security, justifying her choice of man.

    There may be digressions to an Umberto Eco degree, but thematically, this is what it's about.
  • ...then women are irrational numbers. ;-)

  • by Hobobo ( 231526 )
    Is this in Pseudoscience Weekly?
  • I actually worked out the primary equation years ago:
    happiness = 1 / ( 7 - years of marriage )

    Thankfully I only have six more months before the whole equation is undefined

    wow, I just notice that putting whitespace around operators is now automatic.
  • Psychohistory (Score:5, Interesting)

    by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @01:07AM (#5806264)
    I was reading Paul Krugman (the economist) recently and he talked about how Asimov's idea of psychohistory mesmerized him at a young age, to the point of being a history major - but then he realized if you really wanted to use mathematics to model human behavior, economics was one of the best ways to go. Krugman is a liberal, and praises liberal economic policies. He also has some positive things to say about conservative economicists like Milton Friedman and their ideas. But he calls economic ideas to the right of them (supply siders) kooks, and Marxist economic ideas to the left of him kooky as well. He goes into a lot of detail about why supply side ideas are bad, but very little about Marxist economic ideas. There is a logical coherence to this - supply side ideas have been put into policy at various times since Reagan took office, while Marxist economic ideas are not even that influential in Chinese society any more. I suspect Krugman knows very little about Marxist economic ideas although he bashes Marxist economics all the time. Which is ironic because....psychohistory is Marxism! Or I've always considered it as Asimov's parody of the Marxist idea of historical materialism. In the 21st century, especially in the United States, people don't know the first thing about Marxian ideas, except that the USSR and China embraced them, and that in those countries ownership of capital was in the hands of the government, not the capitalist class. But I guess in New York City's Jewish community in the early 20th century, these kinds of ideas circulated around and I'm sure Asimov was familiar with some of these Marxian concepts.

    Marx was a philosopher, a historian and an economist. As far as this is concerned, it is Marx the historian we are concerned with. Marx had an idea called historical materialism [google.com], which was very much like psychohistory - that there is a scientifically identifiable march of history. He saw society as moving through stages - slave states (like the Roman Empire, or the early US), feudalism (like medieval Europe), and capitalism (a new system borne not long before Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations). He saw workers moving from being slaves to serfs/peasants to proletariat wage slaves. He saw the next stage as socialism, the workers seizing the means of production and the state for their own use, and then the stage past socialism, communism, where the main dictum would be "from each according to ability, to each according to need", where there would be no nation-states any more and so forth.

    Anyhow, I haven't read The Foundation trilogy for a while but it would be interesting to see what I get different from it now that I know some more about socialism than I did then. For example, when I first watched the movie Spartacus directed by Stanley Kubrick, I though it was a good movie by Kubrick about gladiators with Kirk Douglass and Laurence Olivier. But with a more full perspective, I can see what a radical movie, with radical ideas spoken by characters, that Dalton Trumbo wrote - I think the radicalness of it is missed by a lot of people since they're not waving red flags and so forth, they're just speaking English. Anyway it's interesting.

    As a footnote, I'm aware of Marx's historical materialism but that doesn't mean I necessarily agree with it. Marx's ideas started being put into practice in 1917 - and five years later, Mussolini marched on Rome, the beginnings of fascism in Europe. From the 1930's through 1950's, a lot of leftists - Gramsci, Wilhelm Reich, the Frankfurt school, asked themselves - what happened? Why didn't Marxism work the way we thought it would? This doesn't just mean what was wrong with the Soviet Union, but why didn't Marx predict a fascist movement coming into existence, largely as a counter-force against socialism (sort of similar to the Jesuits and counter-reformation springing into existence not that long after Luther nailed his theses to the Wittenburg church). This is

  • by fferreres ( 525414 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @01:13AM (#5806286)
    For any conceibable behaveour there is a mathematical way of fitting the behaveour with a certain degree of probability. If something is not pure noise, then there must be some way to formalize it, though language itself or in mathematical notation.

    This works, of course, don't add much value because they never explain how or why things are like that. With physics you don't have to explain the basic laws, they "just are", but with everything else, you better have some explanation of some sort because, in reallity, they are nothing more than constructs based on physical constraints.

    On the other side, it might be funny to see how some people could see these formalizations as expressing more or being more accurate than "plain verb" explanation. "If it's hard to understand then it's real science!!" (wrong!)...

    Just my thoughts so (I am biased yes, I've seen to many quantitative economics to believe equations express more just because the math is hard...they usually don't).
  • by tarball_tinkerbell ( 664105 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @01:56AM (#5806423)
    I spent an hour this afternoon deriving a utility function modeling my preferences over relationships, since I know that they're unusual, discontinuous, and non-monotonic. At the end of it I was convinced I had finally, completely, truly, lost my mind, so I showed what I'd done to some friends/colleagues and they agreed.

    For those who might be interested, it goes as follows:

    where x = quality of man
    x belongs to the set [0,1)

    notice that the set of x is closed at the lower bound (since men graded 0 exist aplenty), while it's open at the upper bound (since the perfect man does not exist. This isn't sexist; I don't believe the perfect woman exists either.). Therefore x can approach 1, but never equal it.

    and where p = intended level of commitment
    where p belongs to [0,1]
    with p = 0 implying no relationship at all, p = 1 implying a ring on my left hand. Further examples: p = 0.1 or 0.2, say, imply a casual fling; p = 0.4 or 0.5 imply dating officially; p = 0.8 or 0.9 imply living together with no intention of anything more.

    We have:
    For p between [0,1): u(x,p) = x^p
    For p = 1: u(x,p) = 2*ln(x+p) ... of course, this can just as well be written as:
    u(x,p) = 2*ln(x+1)

    Those who take the time to solve it for a few representative values will notice a very clear mapping of preferences as under:

    Committed relationship with highly-ranked man is strictly preferred to being single, which in turn is strictly preferred to anything less than full commitment. However, being single is strictly preferred to a committed relationship with a man with quality less than approximately 0.65.

    I already admitted I'm insane. No irate comments on my irrationality please.

    What's the point of this exposition here? Well, the posted article proves one of two things:
    a. When I'm finally institutionalized, I shall have a cellmate, or;
    b. Someone beat me to getting relationship math published, dammit!!!
  • So conspicuous... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LeoDV ( 653216 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @03:06AM (#5806590) Journal
    A hobby of mine is writing SF, and when I read how this guy came to do this accidentally (reading his roomate's socio books, and letter getting a math book he didn't order), I just feel like people have traveled back in time and planted those things so he could start those studies, eventually foster "psychomathematics" that will later be evolved in psychohistory when we have computers fast enough (quantum) to handle the mathematical load.

    The truth is out there.

    Also, I'll remember what he said next time I have a fight with my wife.
  • The mathematics of marriage:

    f(x) = sin (s * x) + b - c

    Hmm... Perhaps something like that?

    Where f is fun, x is time, s is sex frequency, b is amount of beer and c number of compromises in the marriage to your disadvantage. :-)
  • by Quila ( 201335 ) on Friday April 25, 2003 @04:56AM (#5806829)
    Then Chaos Theory must be in this somewhere big-time.
  • OK everyone, there is a science of psychohistory. It already exists. Check out www.psychohistory.com [psychohistory.com].
  • Its nothing like psicohistory to me. If I must remember some SF story to match, I would choose "The language of love" (I think) of Rafferty (Im also not sure). In any case it was a story of two archeologists, that found the lost language of love of a dissapeared civilization. That language allowed the users to express their emotions with an almost perfect precision. Of course to do that you first needed to refine your perception of emotions, and your knowledge of the possible emotions, variations and relate
  • Model this (Score:3, Funny)

    by mikosullivan ( 320993 ) <miko AT idocs DOT com> on Friday April 25, 2003 @08:34AM (#5807356)
    Me: dear...
    Wife: Dear
    Me: Dear
    Wife: Dear
    Me: Dear!
    Wife: DEAR!

    long pause, we look at each other with arched eyebrows

    Me: Dear!
    Wife: Dear...

    and on it goes...

  • ...idea of psychohistory: Asimov postulated that, once human populations reached sufficiently large numbers, we could use the techniques of statistical analysis to model history in much the same way statistical mechanics allow us to model thermodynamics.

    In the article, Murray quotes Lord Rutherford as saying that "If you need to use statistics, then you should design a better experiment."
  • I happen to use the same formula as selection criteria for Notes views that I want to be blank:


    It's the same exact logic that prevails during marital conversations.
  • From http://digilander.libero.it/solciclos/template.pd f

    The Three Theorems of Psychohistorical Quantitivity[2]:

    1 The population under scrutiny is oblivious to the existence of the
    science of Psychohistory.

    2 The time periods dealt with are in the region of 3 generations.

    3 The population must be in the billions (75 billions) for a statistical probability to have a psychohistorical validity.

    Individual relationships fail all three theorems.

  • They're wasting their time, don't they realize that mentalics will soon mess up all the models anyway?
  • Whenever I think I have a tough time in my relationship, I check out Things my girlfriend and I have argued about [ntlworld.com]. This couple would make a good test case for Gottman et al's model, particularly in the sarcasm factor.
  • so sorry cowboy (Score:4, Informative)

    by Madcapjack ( 635982 ) on Saturday April 26, 2003 @03:49PM (#5815962)
    Using mathematics to describe and/or model behaviour is not new, not even in sociology. so this article is no surprise to me. though i do have to say, it is only in the last 10 years that this sort of thing has been done on a mass scale.

    if your'e interested in this sort of thing, google the following topics: game theory, evolutionary game theory, network theory (graph theory), social network theory, evolutionary game theory in networks, agent-based modelling, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary linguistics, memetics. For a general entry into complexity sciences, go to www.santafe.edu The Santa Fe Institute of Complexity, and finding the working papers page(s). Lots of stuff to read there. And for an excellent discussion of the reasons why we should use mathematics in sociology at all (why it isn't just descriptive) look for Dwight Read's paper, On the Utility of Mathematical Reasoning in Anthropology. google it.

Many people are unenthusiastic about your work.