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Toward Neurocognitive Foundations for Generative Social Science
Joshua M. Epstein

Hardcover | 2014 | $52.50 | £44.95 | ISBN: 9780691158884
272 pp. | 6 x 9 | 113 color illus. 3 tables.
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The Final Volume of the Groundbreaking Trilogy on Agent-Based Modeling

In this pioneering synthesis, Joshua Epstein introduces a new theoretical entity: Agent_Zero. This software individual, or "agent," is endowed with distinct emotional/affective, cognitive/deliberative, and social modules. Grounded in contemporary neuroscience, these internal components interact to generate observed, often far-from-rational, individual behavior. When multiple agents of this new type move and interact spatially, they collectively generate an astonishing range of dynamics spanning the fields of social conflict, psychology, public health, law, network science, and economics.

Epstein weaves a computational tapestry with threads from Plato, Hume, Darwin, Pavlov, Smith, Tolstoy, Marx, James, and Dostoevsky, among others. This transformative synthesis of social philosophy, cognitive neuroscience, and agent-based modeling will fascinate scholars and students of every stripe. Epstein's computer programs are provided in the book or on its Princeton University Press website, along with movies of his "computational parables."

Agent_Zero is a signal departure in what it includes (e.g., a new synthesis of neurally grounded internal modules), what it eschews (e.g., standard behavioral imitation), the phenomena it generates (from genocide to financial panic), and the modeling arsenal it offers the scientific community.

For generative social science, Agent_Zero presents a groundbreaking vision and the tools to realize it.


"Agent Zero offers a solution to some of social science's great puzzles. Its behavioral basis is the interplay of emotion, cognition, and network contagion effects. It elegantly explains why so many human actions are so manifestly dysfunctional, and why some are downright evil."--George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics

"Rarely has a book stimulated me intellectually as much as this one. Particularly exciting is the incorporation of agents who feel (affect) and deliberate, as well as influence one another through social interaction. Epstein is a brilliantly creative scholar and the range of applications showcased here is stunning. In sum, this is a pathbreaking book."--Paul Slovic, University of Oregon

"Joshua Epstein proposes a parsimonious but powerful model of individual behavior that can generate an extraordinary range of group behaviors, including mob violence, manias and financial panics, rebellions, network dynamics, and a host of other complex social phenomena. This is a highly original, beautifully conceived, and important book."--Peyton Young, University of Oxford

"In social science generally and most notably in economics, the rational actor model has long been the benchmark for policy analysis and institutional design. Epstein now offers a worthy alternative: Agent_Zero, a mathematically and computationally tractable agent whose inner workings are grounded in neuroscience. Much like you and me, Agent_Zero is influenced by emotion, reason, and social pressures. Epstein demonstrates that collections of Agent Zeros perform amazingly like real groups, teams, and societies and can therefore serve as the fundamental building blocks for what he calls Generative Social Science. The rational actor now has a true competitor. Agent_Zero is a major advance."--Scott Page, University of Michigan

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