Disarmament Insight


Thursday, 11 October 2007

New podcast - the physics of social behaviour

How groups of people make decisions, form opinions, and determine social norms has traditionally been the focus of sociology, anthropology and political science. But physics too has a long tradition of studying systems of many interacting components and has developed tools for understanding how such systems can generate collective social behaviours that can't be anticipated by studying their components or their interactions in isolation.

One recent book exploring this topic, and how physical understanding of the world is relevant to social problem-solving, is 'Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another'. Its author, Dr. Philip Ball, is a science writer and broadcaster, and consultant editor at the science journal Nature. Critical Mass has inspired our work on the Disarmament as Humanitarian Action project, especially two chapters of our third volume of research discussing a "physics of diplomacy" and examining the mechanisms involved in demand for small arms. Quite simply, the ideas Ball writes about are relevant to multilateral decision-makers and the ways they frame issues.

On 25 September, the Disarmament Insight initiative hosted a workshop near Geneva with multilateral practitioners from diplomatic Missions, international organizations and civil society representatives to engage them on the theme of 'complexity and diplomacy: Understanding the implications for arms control'. The aim is to encourage participants to think differently about human security, and prompt new, constructive responses.

Our speakers included Philip Ball and we recorded his 45-minute talk. We have the pleasure to announce a podcast of his presentation on the physics of social behaviour is available from today. We've also included Dr. Ball's slides in the podcast to aid the listener. These are viewable in iTunes or in Quicktime Player in sync with the audio.


John Borrie