The Uncertainty Principle of the Social Sciences
14 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2014 Last revised: 2 Oct 2015
Date Written: January 2, 2014
The Uncertainty Principle of the Social Sciences - Quantum Inspiration, Theoretical Investigation and Empirical Insights.
The more precisely the position (of some particle) is determined, the less precisely the momentum (of that particle) is known in this instant, and vice versa. -- Heisenberg, uncertainty paper, 1927
Inspired by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle for sub-atomic particles in Quantum Mechanics, we postulate the Uncertainty Principle of the Social Sciences as follows:
“Any generalization in the social sciences cannot be both popular and continue to yield accurate predictions, or in other words, the more popular a particular generalization in the social sciences, the less accurate will be the predictions it yields”.
When we compare the central tenets of the two principles, a striking commonality emerges. This has to do with how each system is affected by efforts at increasing the accuracy of measurements for one variable, resulting in decreased accuracy in knowing the other variable.
The Uncertainty Principle of the Social Sciences, thus stated, in terms of popularity and accuracy of predictions, primarily deals with the scope and limitations of any relationships we uncover in social systems. We lay the groundwork for a theoretical framework towards measuring and understanding the Uncertainty Principle of the Social Sciences. Two elements seem to immediately contribute towards this uncertainty; one is the number of participants in the social system and the other is the number of possible states the predicted outcome can take. The simplifying assumption here is that we can identity all the possible predicted outcomes and participants unambiguously.
We will attempt to create an Uncertainty Index, using the variables mentioned above, for any social system that captures the difficulty inherent in making predictions regarding this system. In certain instances, we will see that it is important to distinguish between the number of participants in the social system and the number of participants in the social system that are aware of the particular relationship that is expected to yield a prediction.
We then look at different social systems with a view of predicting various outcomes in these systems and how the accuracy of the predictions change as more participants become aware of the generalizations that yield these predictions. We begin this exploration by starting with simple social systems and increasing the complexity in terms of the range of possible outcomes and the number of participants.
Whether the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is the ultimate cause of the Uncertainty Principle of the Social Sciences, or, if there is some relationship between the two is a topic better saved for another time.
Keywords: Uncertainty, Principle, Social, Science, Prediction, Popular, Heisenberg, Quantum, Inspiration, Mechanics, Theoretical, Investigation, Empirical, Insights
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