Notes on Trust as a Causal Basis for Social Science

35 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2022

Date Written: October 19, 2022


This discussion is aimed at a mixed audience of social theorists and physicists. It proposes to use a formalization of `trust' as an interaction potential for predicting social behaviours---analogous
to the use of energy in physics. It builds on details previously established for virtual processes. Progress in physics advanced quickly once the concept of energy was developed as a unifying
exchange currency in interactions. An analogous approach, suitable for large or small scale modelling, is proposed here for social sciences, based on the formal notions of trust from Promise Theory. In the absence of a comprehensive physics of socio-economic systems many authors have used analogies with the physics of elementary phenomena as a way of reasoning, without an obvious justification for making the analogy. In this note, this approach is largely justified and expanded upon. By introducing a formal measure of trust as an interchange currency (analogous to energy or money) we can quantify interactions and sketch out a manifesto with simple examples for future study. Unlike some analogous uses of physical models, we are not limited to a mean field or statistical coarse-grained limit. Promise Theory graph dynamics provides an detailed and intimate underpinning for such approximations and connects to Game Theory in a mesoscopic limit. The key insight is that the semantics of trust are the essential accounting parameter that unifies the different pictures, as demonstrated earlier under the general theory of virtual processes.

Keywords: Trust, Social physics, social dynamics

Suggested Citation

Burgess, Mark, Notes on Trust as a Causal Basis for Social Science (October 19, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

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