Physics for Politicians Janusz Hołyst (Warsaw University of Technology)

Theoretical physics together with computer simulations provided universal tools that made it possible to understand the nature of objects as dissimilar to each other as elementary particles, atomic nuclei, crystals, liquids, stars and galaxies.

These tools, combined with observations from psychology and sociology, also allow to study social phenomena.

Research in this domain belongs to the field called sociophysics, and for over twenty years it has been intensively conducted in several dozen centres around the world, including a number of Polish groups.

During the lecture, I would like to show how the methods and models of physics can be useful for politicians to understand certain properties of the society they rule or want to rule. I will present it on examples of so-called tipping points of social opinion dynamics, which, from the point of view of physics, occur naturally in multistable systems as a result of multi-body interactions and co-evolution.

The model of a strong leader is based on the theory of social influence and it demonstrates that one agent with a sufficiently strong influence is able to create a group / party around him which, using the leader's "charisma", can convince a much larger community to follow its program and effectively exclude opponents.

This phenomenon corresponds to a discontinuous phase transition (a step change in the number of leader's followers)[↗]and is accompanied by hysteresis - reducing the leader's strength or even removing him does not immediately result in return to a multi-party system. The transition to dictatorship is favored by the existence of social noise, as the opposition is much more sensitive to confusion than a group of strong leader supporters. (animation).

A similar, step change in the number of supporters of a given opinion may take place during the confrontation of two social groups that were initially separated. Increasing a strength of interaction between these groups beyond a certain critical value leads to a sudden change of view in one of the groups. The smaller group may turn out to be the winning group if its internal connections are denser or stronger than in the larger group that is losing. However, if the problem is very controversial and the conflicting agents break social ties, society will split into disjointed subgroups [↗]and it will be difficult to reproduce the original social structure.

Social structures emerging in the coevolving voter model in which an agent can take the opinion of his neighbour or stick to his own view and seek a connection to an agent of the same state. Above: the case when the probability of social link rewiring is less than a critical value and society is differentiated (green and blue agents) but opposite groups are connected (red links). (animation) Below: the probability of social link rewiring is larger than a critical value and society has split into two disjointed subgroups with opposing views. (animation)

Including relationships such as: my friend is my friend's friend and my enemy's enemy, and my enemy is my friend's enemy and my enemy's friend, is described in sociophysics by interactions between three agents (or larger structures) and leads to the so-called structural balance.

Unfortunately, this balance, apart from the state of common friendship, also has polarized states, i.e. the division of the community into hostile subgroups.

Assigning agents their individual attributes and taking homophily into account inhibits such divisions [↗], especially for attributes with a positive expectation value.

Evolution of treaties between France (F), Great Britain (GB), Austria-Hungary (AH), Germany (G), Italy (I) and Russia (R) in the second half of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century led to the formation of structural balance - division into two hostile coalitions (from the works of Antal, Redner, Krapivsky, 2005, 2006). This division is considered to be one of reasons for the outbreak of the First World War.

Sociophysics allows for the calculation of critical values of model parameters at which qualitative changes in the social structure occur and indicates that the crossing of certain levels, which are tipping points of the dynamical system, leads to processes that may be difficult to reverse.

The lecture will be visualized with on-line simulations of opinion dynamics and changes in the structure of social group models.

Janusz Hołyst is a specialist in the field of statistical physics and its interdisciplinary applications.

He works as a professor at the Faculty of Physics of Warsaw University of Technology, where he heads the lab Physics in Economy and Social Sciences.

In 1996, using the theory of social impact and cellular automata, he developed a model of strong leader and demonstrated the presence of discontinuous phase transitions as well as the phenomenon of hysteresis for the opinion dynamics of social groups in this model.

He also investigated the collective nature of emotions in online groups and proved that negative emotions are fuel for many of them.

Results of his research were published in 170 papers that were cited over 5,500 times.

He is a fellow of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and coordinated EU research projects: CREEN - Critical events in evolving networks, Cyberemotions - Collective emotions in cyberspace, RENOIR - Reverse engineering in social information processing, in which partners were groups from ETH Zurich, NTU Sinagapore and Stanford University.

He is the President of the National Council of EU Research Project Coordinators and was the first President of the Board of the Physics in Economy and Social Sciences - section of the Polish Physical Society.

He works as the Main Editor of the Journal Physica A, where he is responsible for publications on econophysics, sociophysics and complex networks.

October 17, 2020 at 1:30pm

Auditorium of Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw


Created with an images by Senat RP, Todd Trapani (Unsplash), Hasan Almasi (Unsplash) and Janusz Hołyst