[Humanist] 29.41 panic and preparation: agent-based

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed May 20 06:51:35 CEST 2015

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 41.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Tue, 19 May 2015 20:15:40 +0000
        From: John Bonnett <jbonnett at brocku.ca>
        Subject: Subject: panic and preparation

I find myself wondering if Willard is using the proper biblical analogy here.  Is the problem that we are plagued by Zealots?  I rather think the problem is that we are plagued by Sadducees who refuse to countenance that the dead may rise again. The latter analogy is apropos insofar as those who are interested in agent-based simulations see them as instruments to reconstruct, or if you like "revive" ancient or historic patterns that once emerged but are now no more.

The analogy with Woodward strikes me as misplaced as he and his contemporaries were rightly concerned with the focus of history and computing on macro social and economic structures at the expense of individual action and experience.  Further, they did violence to history by assuming that individual actors were for all practical purposes homogeneous.  Individual diversity was erased out of the equation.  

Agent-based models by contrast assume the heterogeneity of the target populations under study and use that heterogeneity to explain the emergence and persistence of the economic, social and cultural patterns that the given scholar seeks to explain.  They provide a basis for exploring the relationship between micro-scale and macro-scale behaviour that scholars previously were unable to plausibly connect due to the limitations in their concepts, mathematical equations, and the computational power situated between their brains.  Put simply, those who seek to employ them are appropriating a tool to assist a handicap that has plagued the social sciences and the humanities for quite some time.  It isn't the solution for every analytical challenge faced by scholars, but then again what tool is?  I see no zealotry here.


John Bonnett
Associate Professor
Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities

Department of History
Brock University
500 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catharines, ON
L2S 3A1

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