Simulaton of Social Systems: Paradigmatic Tool for Analyzing Social Procesess behind Our Backs?

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Bernd HORNUNG, University Hospital Giessen and Marburg, Germany
Society is man-made, but when we are born into it and start acting, it is a given. Social processes are going on in structures given at that moment, often behind our backs, moving society in unwanted directions. Attempts at controlling and steering such social forces turned out quite ineffective. Actors like governments, which are supposed to do so, are quite helpless in the face of such mechanisms and processes.

To be able to influence such processes, they need to be understood first. As multiple circular feedback loops are involved, which are interrelated, interacting and producing both positive amplifying and negative counteracting effects, conventional analysis does not help. Graphs and diagrams modelling such interrelated feedback loops are of limited help, as the processes behind our backs are dynamic and moreover involve structural change and innovation.

The paper proposes computer simulation, the paradigmatic method of systems and cybernetic research, in order to cope with these problems. This proposition is not new, but the promises, limits, and drawbacks of simulation models have barely been discussed with regard to the present issue.

Therefore the paper will focus on the limitations and drawbacks to be expected when using simulation models for such purposes. Among these are problems of validating a model, e.g. by use of historical data, of representing structural change, the functional equivalence of different structural set-ups along with the limits of such functional equivalence, the potential and limitations of step-functions to represent structural change etc.

The paper will not try to provide answers to all these difficult methodologcial questions, but is expected to lead into a substantial discussion among the experts present.

The conclusion is, however, that computer simulation is not a panacea, but the best methodology available at present, provided appropriate precautions are taken and its limitations are kept in mind.