Simulation of social and cultural changes?—S.N. Balagangadhara

A question: Is it desirable to have a model that can simulate social and cultural changes? I cannot see what good reason there is not to find it desirable. It would be eminently desirable. It will take some time though before we get there, but we will surely get there. Thanks to computers, we have a possibility of talking realistically about simulation. However, we have to still go a very long way before we are able to do so. We need to build some theories about social and cultural change and evolution; we need to develop suitable algorithms for simulating these changes; we need to develop more and different kinds of logics (non-monotonic ones) than exist today; we need to simulate some relevant aspects of human reasoning process … It is only now that we are beginning to simulate the evolutionary process and have developed some kinds of algorithms to do so. We need to overlay this with developments (hardly understood today) about social dynamics and cultural dynamics. And then study what could happen. So, it is definitely going to take some time. In all probability, we will first start simulating some fragments of social or cultural reality first (after all, this is what modeling means).

(a) It has always been my dream (and some kind of vague conviction that it can be done) to simulate the growth of ‘the Indian caste system’: I think a fundamental aspect of the ‘caste structure’ is recursive in nature. The only thing (!) one has to do is to isolate the principles (probably they will be four or five at the most) and use something like the genetic algorithm to simulate its growth, disintegration and recombination. (This is probably the only way to check the ‘truth’ of any theory about the nature of the caste system.)

(b) I think some aspects of the western culture are susceptible to a simulation as well. I think that the dynamics of its ‘norms’ and this culture’s basic strategies of social co-operation can be simulated. The empirical history would be the check for the accuracy of such a simulation.

(c) If both (a) and (b) can be done, then we can simulate an aspect of ‘colonialism’ as an interaction between (a) and (b). Again, we have the colonial history functioning as a check about what is simulated.

In all probability, simulation is how we can test the ‘truth’ of theories about the social and cultural world. That we have not been able to do this so far has more to do with the state of our knowledge than with the nature of cultural and social realities.