Social Exemplifications of Physical Principles

  • R. Bruce Lindsay


Many years ago in the brashness of youth the writer prepared an article on the possible use of physical principles and concepts in the description and understanding of social phenomena.1 He called attention to the earlier efforts of social scientists like August Comte, Herbert Spencer, and Lester F. Ward to apply physical concepts and laws more or less directly to sociological explanation. He emphasized the difficulties encountered in the use of such analogies, e.g., the attempt to introduce a “social force” analogous to “force” in mechanics, overlooking the highly specific meaning attributed to the term in physics, not always clearly grasped by the nonphysicist and indeed for a long time not even too precisely clear to many physicists and engineers. It was only later that his attention was drawn to the ideas and criticisms of Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), who in his monumental work Trattato di SocioJogia Generale (1916)2 stresses in great detail the same difficulties.


Human Experience Physical Principle Social Phenomenon Average Cost Ergodic Hypothesis 
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References and Notes

  1. 1.
    R. B. Lindsay, “Physical Laws and Social Phenomena,” Sci. Mon. 25, 127–132 (1927).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Vilfredo Pareto, Trattato di Sociologia Generale (1916); English translation with the title The Mind and Society (Harcourt-Brace, New York, 1935).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Compensation,” in Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson (Thomas Nelson and Sons, New Century Library, New York, n.d.), pp. 73ff.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    R. B. Lindsay, “Entropy Consumption and Values in Physical Science,” Am. Sei 47, 376–382 (1959)Google Scholar
  5. 4a.
    R. B. Lindsay, The Role of Science in Civilization (Harper and Row, New York, 1963; Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1973), pp. 290–298.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    R. B. Lindsay, Introduction to Physical Statistics (John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1941; Dover Publications, New York, 1968), Chap. 5.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Paul S. Epstein, “Critical Appreciation of Gibbs’ Statistical Mechanics,” in A Commentary on the Scientific Writings of J. Willard Gibbs ,Volume Two (Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut, 1936), pp. 465ff.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    A. I. Khinchin, Mathematical Foundations of Statistical Mechanics (Dover Publications, New York, 1949).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Niels Bohr, “Kausalität und Komplementarität,” Erkenntis 6, 293 (1937)Google Scholar
  10. 8a.
    Niels Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1958).Google Scholar
  11. 9.
    R. B. Lindsay and Henry Margenau, Foundations of Physics (John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1936; Dover Publications, New York, 1957), pp. 418ff. Also Ox Bow Press, Woodbridge, Connecticut, 1981.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    R. B. Lindsay and Henry Margenau, Ref. 9., pp. 112ff.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    George Kingsley Zipf, Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort (Addison-Wesley Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1949)Google Scholar
  14. 11a.
    Colin Cherry, On Human Communication (Technology Press, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1957).Google Scholar
  15. 12.
    B. Mandelbrot, “An Informational Theory of the Structure of Language Based upon the Theory of the Statistical Matching of Messages and Coding,” in Proceedings of London Symposium on Applications of Information Theory ,1952 (Butterworth Scientific Publications, London, 1953); see also Colin Cherry, Ref. 11, pp. 105ff and 209ff.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Bruce Lindsay
    • 1
  1. 1.Brown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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