In which the Idiosopher gets to do Inklings stuff on the clock.
Last summer, the blog started following Sørina Higgins’s suggestion about network analysis to see how interactions between the Inklings in real life turned into stylistic evolution in their literary styles. I haven’t mentioned it since, due to a lack of discoveries that are interesting (even to me).
This week was the 2017 Winter Simulation Conference, a world-wide hootenanny of computer-simulation experts. With all my responsibilities discharged, I got to spend the last half-day attending talks on anything that sounded interesting. Here’s a good one from Wai Kin (Victor) Chan of Tsinghua University:
This paper studies social influence (i.e., adoption of belief) using agent-based simulation and regression models. Each agent is modeled by a linear regression model. Agents interact with neighbors by exchanging social beliefs. It is observed that if individual belief is linear in neighbors’ beliefs, system-level belief and aggregated neighbors’ beliefs can also be described by a linear regression model. Analysis is conducted on a simplified 2-node network to provide insight into the interactions and results of general models. Least squares estimates are developed. Explicit expressions are obtained to explain relationship between initial belief and current belief.
Social networks are complicated. People go in and out, they talk more or less, they form cliques, etc. If you want to measure things about them, you usually have to build a computer model with a clock and a bunch of “agents” in it. An agent is (in this case) a person with ideas (represented by a number), and as time advances, the agents pick up ideas from each other. Then you inspect the agents after a the simulation has been calculated and find out what ideas each agent has absorbed.
What Prof. Chan has discovered is that, as long as each person in a social network only picks up an idea from three others (which is comparable to the situation for the Inklings), all the complicated stuff drops out – the results of the full-powered simulation always look like a straight-line influence! This paper is his attempt to prove that’s actually true. If he’s right, then the spread of some ideas through a literary group will show a very simple pattern, and a literary scholar will be able to do lots of Digital Humanities research with just a spreadsheet. (Hi, Sparrow!)
An anecdote: another thing I did last summer was serve on a jury. We had to decide on a prison sentence. At the beginning, we went around the table and got everybody’s first impression. There was quite a bit of difference among us. After four hours of discussion, which got pretty acrimonious at times, we agreed on a number that was within 5% of the average of everybody’s initial opinion. That’s what a social-influence model would predict, if Prof. Chan is correct.
If the idea you’re studying can be cast as how strongly an opinion is held, on a scale from 0 to 1, then a linear regression is all you need to solve it. That’s what I suggested Theosophy might look like, in the post from last July. Division of territory, such as giving up Arthurian legends to one colleague, space travel to another, and focusing your own attention on time-travel, isn’t describable this way.
Prof. Chan started off his talk by saying the topic was just his own interest, not funded by any organization, and it wasn’t finished yet and he didn’t know what it meant, and the talk was still interesting. My new scholarship goal is to be able to do that.
Irrelevant note: today is Idiosophy’s second bloggiversary.