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Other methods like propaganda and advertising also manipulate people’s emotions.
These social mechanisms are probably only a subset of the total, but they show that
communication operates at the level of high-level inference as in verbal empathy, but also at
fundamental biological levels like mirror neurons and molecular communication. These
mechanisms explain how it is that emotions can spread through a community, sometimes
rationally when everybody is feeling good because the situation really is good, but sometimes
in ways that are driven by collective motivated inference or collective fear-driven inference.
Feedback loops and transitions
In any complex system you can have both stability and transitions. In the cases we are
considering here, the stability comes from dampening, or negative, feedback. In
psychological terms you have inhibition between elements: if you are feeling good about the
stock market, you won’t be feeling bad about it. At the social level different kinds of
intimidating communication can promote stability. If somebody is saying something you
don’t like and you glare at them, you inhibit their communication. At the individual level,
feedback loops can either flip you into a mode where you are experiencing motivated
inference or one where you are experiencing fear-driven inference.
In a group, transitions can happen as a result of amplifying feedback, where one thing
excites another that excites another and everything gets heated up even more. In
psychological models, there is excitation between different elements, just as among neurons,
resulting in a whole circle of excitation. At the social level, with amplifying feedback there is
a kind of collective energy where people go to a meeting or join a party. At both the social
and psychological level, using the kinds of psychological and social mechanisms that I have
described, you can have both situations where you get stability and others where you get
dramatic change.
This approach has methodological implications for the idea that there have to be two different
ways of doing science, as Soros suggests. If you do not appreciate the mechanisms that are
operating in people’s minds, then you probably have to do social science differently.
However, if you do social science in a way that integrates neural mechanisms, psychological
mechanisms, and social mechanisms, then you can produce a sufficiently complex account
that is similar in its methods and results to what happens in natural sciences such as physics
and biology. Prediction is difficult because these systems are highly non-linear and chaotic in
the sense that they are easily perturbed. Nevertheless, for giving a mechanistic explanation of
what goes on in complex social phenomena like economic booms and busts, this is a
perfectly reasonable way to proceed.