Social physics

Sandy Pentland sent me a galley of his new book, Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread. It gives a cohesive overview of his research and puts it all under an intellectual canopy: we are collective creatures, shaped irrevocably by those around us. There are always outliers, of course, but even they cannot always escape cultural norms.

His thesis aims not at selfish gene-style biological adaptation, but self-interested economics. Pentland says his research, built on analyzing massive sets of data, shows that rational behavior is driven by the group, not the self. I expect he’ll get a good deal of backlash from traditional economists, but those involved in experimental research, the behavioralists, will probably support him.

I’m still digesting the book, but put together this piece for Information Week, drawn from an interview with Pentland focused mostly on part two of the book, on organizational dynamics.

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