|By Chuck Thompson
Originally published in the Sept. 2010 Socionomist
John Casti’s just-published book, Mood Matters: From Rising Skirt Lengths to the Collapse of World Powers, continues to bring socionomics to the attention of the academic media. Two of the world’s most prestigious science journals published lengthy reviews of the socionomic hypothesis in their September issues. One write-up was favorable toward Dr. Casti’s book and socionomics, the other less so.
The first review appeared in Nature, the world’s most highly cited interdisciplinary journal. In it, David Berreby, a science journalist and author, agrees with Casti that “reason [has been] dethroned as the ruling explanation for people’s conduct” and that “the search is on for another framework in which human behavior can be modeled.” He applauds Prechter and Casti in their search for a new understanding. He correctly cites several key aspects of socionomic theory, including that “financial data are reservoirs of social information that can be tapped to predict crises.”
But Berreby objects that the assignment of “a single mood at a given time to a particular collective, whether that is the population of a city, country or even the world” is untenable, because “each of us belongs to more than one social group, so how can we have one belief about the future?” For the record, Prechter addressed this idea over a decade ago in The Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior and the New Science of Socionomics (HSB) (1999):
Smaller aggregations are imbedded within larger ones. People can be members of several aggregations at once … . Together, all the waves (of social mood) of all the aggregations weave the fabric of social life.1
Berreby further criticizes Mood Matters by claiming that its topic, socionomics, appears to be based only on examples and correlation. However, by necessity the book contains a small fraction of the published research supporting the socionomic hypothesis. Critics should consult, at a minimum, the two “General References” that Casti highlights in his book, Human Social Behavior and the New Science of Socionomics and Pioneering Studies in Socionomics, as well as the seminal paper “Financial/Economic Dichotomy” (Journal of Behavioral Finance, 2007), which connects waves of social mood with the human impulse to herd in contexts of uncertainty.
In his review for Science, which has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed, general science journal in the world, University of Oregon physics professor Richard Taylor is unabashedly positive. He writes that socionomics “presents an effective argument for why the financial market serves as the optimal choice of sociometer.” He also lauds socionomists’ “meticulous detective work of the time lines involved in major events,” which reveal the “tell-tale manifestations of socionomics.” Regarding socionomics’ assertion that mood drives events and not the inverse, Taylor lists key examples of historic events that failed to affect the financial markets. He goes on to write, “This unexpected insensitivity to world events addresses a historic puzzle: why the financial market traces out recognizable patterns as a function of time.” He asks, rhetorically, that if we believe the conventional wisdom that the “market is driven by irregular and diverse events, why would these cumulate in a distinct pattern?”
Taylor commends Casti for wisely declaring early on that his book is deliberately one-sided. This is as it should be, “because [Casti’s] purpose is to trigger a reaction against the established beliefs of the financial world,” Taylor writes. He concludes that by publicizing the relationship between events and social mood, Mood Matters “reveals the extent to which the latter determines our future.”
[Virtually every major theory encounters three phases on the road to adoption. Reviews like those in Science and Nature are an indication that socionomics is moving beyond phase one—being ignored. Next is phase two—being debated. Eventually, in its third and final phase, we trust that the theory will be accepted as self-evident.]
1Prechter, R. (1999). The wave principle of human social behavior and the new science of socionomics. Gainesville, GA: New Classics Library.
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Most economists, historians and sociologists
presume that events determine society’s mood. But socionomics hypothesizes
the opposite: that social mood regulates the character of social events. The
events of history—such as investment booms and busts, political events,
macroeconomic trends and even peace and war—are the products of a naturally
occurring pattern of social-mood fluctuation. Such events, therefore, are not
randomly distributed, as is commonly believed, but are in fact probabilistically
predictable. Socionomics also posits that the stock market is the best available
meter of a society’s aggregate mood, that news is irrelevant to social
mood, and that financial and economic decision-making are fundamentally different
in that financial decisions are motivated by the herding impulse while economic
choices are guided by supply and demand. For more information about socionomic
theory, see (1) the text, The
Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior © 1999, by Robert Prechter;
(2) the introductory documentary History's
Hidden Engine; (3) the video Toward
a New Science of Social Prediction, Prechter’s 2004 speech before
the London School of Economics in which he presents evidence to support his
socionomic hypothesis; and (4) the Socionomics Institute’s website, www.socionomics.net.
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