CSH Talk by Joshua M. Epstein “Generative Social Science and Agent Zero: A Formal Alternative to the Rational Actor”

Nov 03, 2023 | 15:0016:00

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Joshua M. Epstein (New York University) will present a talk on Friday, November 3rd from 3 – 4 PM in the Salon.




Title: Generative Social Science and Agent Zero: A Formal Alternative to the Rational Actor



Abstract: Epstein will review the epistemology of generative social science, whose principal tenet is that to explain a macroscopic pattern, it does not suffice to demonstrate that the pattern is an equilibrium. Rather one must demonstrate, mathematically or computationally, how the pattern could emerge on time scales of interest to humans in a population of cognitively plausible agents. Although systematically violated by humans, the rational actor model persists as the dominant idealization in the social sciences for lack of explicit formal alternatives. Although minimal and provisional, Epstein’s Agent_Zero is one candidate. Based on cognitive neuroscience, Agent Zero’s observable behavior results from the interaction of an affective module (based on the neuroscience of fear), a boundedly rational deliberative module, and social interactions with other emotionally driven and statistically hobbled agents in (endogenous) networks. The model generates important macro-phenomena and behavior in groups that violate rational choice theory.



Bio: Joshua M. Epstein is Professor of Epidemiology and Affiliated Faculty at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the Department of Politics. He is the founding Director of the NYU Agent-Based Modeling Laboratory and an External Faculty Fellow at the Santa Fe Institute. He was Professor and founding Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Advanced Modeling in the Social and Behavioral Sciences, with Joint appointments in Economics and Applied Mathematics. Earlier, he was a Senior Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. He models complex social dynamics using mathematical and computational methods, notably the method of Agent-Based Modeling in which he is a recognized pioneer. For this innovation, he was awarded the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Amherst College, and other distinctions. Epstein’s seven books include Nonlinear Dynamics, Mathematical Biology, and Social Science (Wiley); Generative Social Science (Princeton; Agent_Zero (Princeton), and Robert Axtell, Growing Artificial Societies (MIT). Epstein holds a BA from Amherst College and a Ph.D. from MIT.




Nov 03, 2023


Stefan Thurner


Complexity Science Hub Vienna
Josefstaedter Straße 39
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