III Congreso Internacional Historia a Debate Santiago de Compostela

IV Congreso Internacional Historia a Debate
Santiago de Compostela, 15-19 de diciembre de 2010


Ponencias aceptadas

Sección I.2. Innovaciones paradigmáticas


Olavi K. Fält (University of Oulu, Finland)


Thermodynamics, a new network theory, and cognitive psychology in the interpretation of history


In my presentation I examine the application of three theories of natural science in historical research. Political researcher Robert C. Clark (1997) has studied the history of mankind as the history of globalization. His starting point is mankind's necessity to spread everywhere in the world. This has resulted from the perpetual struggle to satisfy the needs of a community that is continuously expanding and becoming more complex. Clark's model is based on the second law of thermodynamics, according to which entropy in every closed system constantly increases.

When the so-called new theory of networks is linked to Clark's model, it opens new possibilities to analyze and explain historical phenomena. By his network theory physicist Albert-Lászlo Barabási (2002) means we are all interconnected. This interconnection actually includes everything - our biological existence, our social world, our economy, and our religious traditions. Thus, communication maps on the Internet, maps of companies linked by trade and ownership, maps of interaction between species in ecosystems, and maps of genes functioning together within cells all have a common basic structure in the same way as different people's skeletons.

According to Barabási, it appears to be a question of the structure and evolution of the complex networks around us being controlled by simple laws of nature.

I apply the ideas of Clark and Barabási to historical image research, which again is based on cognitive psychology. In cognitive psychology the observation is made that people's formation of habits and their choice of ways of acting are governed by individuals' knowledge and skills based on prior experiences, i.e. by their so-called mental schemas or internal models and by their observations of the outside world which are made through them. Thus, decisive in the formation of observations are the observer's schemas, which as if predict what we are capable of observing. A person observes only that which he is able to seek on the basis of his earlier mental schemas.

The most profound significance of combining Clark's model, Barábasi's new network theory, and cognitive psychology is probably that it brings to the science of history the conformity to laws that is characteristic of the natural sciences. That in itself is nothing new, for already Thukydides in his time applied to historical research the method used in medicine to analyze causes of illnesses.

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