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The physical modelling of society: a historical perspective

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  • Ball, Philip
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    Abstract

    By seeking to uncover the rules of collective human activities, today's statistical physicists are aiming to return to their roots. Statistics originated in the study of social numbers in the 17th century, and the discovery of statistical invariants in data on births and deaths, crimes and marriages led some scientists and philosophers to conclude that society was governed by immutable “natural” laws beyond the reach of governments, of which the Gaussian “error curve” became regarded as the leitmotif. While statistics flourished as a mathematical tool of all the sciences in the 19th century, it provoked passionate responses from philosophers, novelists and social commentators. Social statistics also guided Maxwell and Boltzmann towards the utilization of probability distributions in the development of the kinetic theory of gases, the foundation of statistical mechanics.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications.

    Volume (Year): 314 (2002)
    Issue (Month): 1 ()
    Pages: 1-14

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:phsmap:v:314:y:2002:i:1:p:1-14

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    Web page: http://www.journals.elsevier.com/physica-a-statistical-mechpplications/

    Related research

    Keywords: Statistics; History of physics; Statistical mechanics; Social science; Gaussian;

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    Cited by:
    1. Victor M. Yakovenko & J. Barkley Rosser, 2009. "Colloquium: Statistical mechanics of money, wealth, and income," Papers 0905.1518, arXiv.org, revised Dec 2009.
    2. Villegas-Febres, J.C. & Olivares-Rivas, W., 2008. "The existence of negative absolute temperatures in Axelrod’s social influence model," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 387(14), pages 3701-3707.

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