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Comment: Convergence (by Wojciech Gryc)

Keep yourself updated about Convergence by visiting http://www.fiveminutestomidnight.org/convergence.

John Muir, a naturalist and conservationist of the late 1800s, once said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” It is easy to see the interconnectedness of plants, animals, and other members of ecosystems; this lesson has been stressed many a time in elementary and secondary schools. It is much more difficult, however, to see a similar interconnectedness in society, but it is there. Politics, economics, human rights, international studies, and development are all interrelated. Political purposes, for example, may affect how people’s human rights are respected. Economics is a key tool for the development of nations, both in the first and third world.

This view, however, can be extended to include just about anything. The Five Minutes to Midnight workshop focuses on bias in the media, and how specific words are used to distort people’s perception of the issues being reported. Many people are shocked to hear about this, and many of methods used by propaganda artists and the media rely the science of psychology and cognition.

On a more theoretical level, this applies to many scientific concepts and theories. Programmers who work on competitive games like chess, checkers, or other strategic games often incorporate the use of something called the Minimax Theorem. This mathematical concept falls under the category of “Game Theory” which has been extended and used by economists. John Nash even won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his role in developing game theory.

Already, the connections between psychology and mathematics with the media and economics, respectively, are visible. The connections, if one looks hard enough, present themselves in many facets of the social sciences. In “Constructing International Politics”, an essay printed in Theories of War and Peace, Alexander Wendt mentions these connections. According to Wendt, neoliberalism and neorealism, two categories of theories used in the study of international relations and politics, actually use game theory to explain some of their concepts.

A simpler example can be found in realism. This school of thought regarding international relations treats nations as competing states with one simple interest: to be most powerful. If one were to assign different point scores for wars won, sanctions, and other factors affecting international politics, and treated the entire system as a game where players play against each other in an effort to win (much like Risk, or other popular strategy games), one could use the Minimax Theorem to calculate a rationally perfect strategy.

Mathematics and international relations? Indeed, there seems to be a connection, and many more can be discovered. If you tug hard enough on a certain branch of human knowledge, the entire tree will shift and respond.

Education, analysis, and critical thinking are all important skills that must be applied in doing work with current affairs. In many cases, however, what people read and what actually happens in the world is dictated by many seemingly unrelated factors. Interdisciplinary research is the key to advancement and success, and doing so between the sciences and social sciences is an important step.

Instead of asking the regular questions about war and peace, try challenging yourself (and others) by asking unconventional ones like, “How can artificial intelligence be used to develop new political theories?” or “What applications will nanotechnology yield for economics?”

In many cases, it is difficult to see a connection, but perseverance is key. With this in mind, please visit http://www.fiveminutestomidnight.org/convergence within the next few months. “Convergence” is a project dedicated to connecting science with social science, and finding applications that will benefit two worlds that are treated as separate and unrelated entities much too often.

Sources

Brown, Michael E., et al, eds. Theories of War and Peace. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1998.

Casti, John L. Five Golden Rules: Great Theories of 20th-Century Mathematics -and Why They Matter. Canada: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996.

"Connections Quotations." Wisdom Quotes. 2003. 29 June 2004. <http://www.wisdomquotes.com/cat_connections.html>.

"John Muir Exhibit." Sierra Club. 2 June 2004. 29 June 2004. <http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/>.

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