Women are the ‘weak’ and men the ‘superior’ sex; The political system is the system within society where decisions are made; Knowledge workers get paid better than labor workers; Eating animal is ‘normal’; The world and society can only exist with capitalism; …
… or could it be different? – The short answer is: Yes! The long answer is linked to the basic task of social science: To expose stereotypes and unmask not reflected patterns of human behavior.
As some streams within social science state the world surrounding us is formed and perceived by individuals in a certain and unique way. Individuals create their own reality based on stimuli they experience with their senses, preconditions set by society and in conclusion interpretations made by the individual. A change in the preconditions or the way individuals interpret the stimuli can create a totally different ‘reality’ and therefore society. This can be seen relatively easily by comparing the view on the world of people from different cultural or social backgrounds.
The many-worlds interpretation, which has it’s roots in quantum mechanics, states that there are unlimited and ‘invisible’ parallel universes to the one we live in. Furthermore it declares that every event that occurs, no matter how small, can be a branch point in linear time and influence the following events. Perhaps the many-worlds interpretation is better known to the broader public by names often used in pop culture media like ‘parallel universes’ or ‘alternate history’. A decent example from television is the series “The Man in the High Castle”. For a better explanation of the many-worlds interpretation I recommend you watch this video by MinutePhysics as I’ll not describe the concept in detail.
Focus of discussion
At this point you might ask yourself what this weird sounding, science fiction like theory has to do with society and social science? To set this straight: I don’t want to (and can’t) discuss this theory from a quantum mechanics point of view. The goal of this article is to establish a stronger tie between natural science and social science by demonstrating existing connections in the way both look at the world. Moreover I’ll try to raise arguments to show which important outcome this connection has for individuals and society.
Implications for individuals and society
Transferring the many-worlds interpretation to individual life implies that every individual has the choice to change the future and create a lasting impact at every point of time. Or the other way around: Everything that is as it is today, could be completely (or slightly) different if decisions in the past would have been made differently. The important thing to recognize is that differences are not created by a higher force (god, devil, fate, or whatever you want) but by the choices individuals make everyday.
How often have you heard sentences like: “It’s pointless. Don’t waste your energy, you can’t change anything at all”? Based on the many-worlds interpretation these statements are fundamentally flawed. In contrast you can actually create an ‘alternative’ future justified on an individual level by simply making decisions and taking action. You just have to gain awareness of this possibility.
Looking on the level of society it gets even more interesting. Various people have come up with concepts about the evolution of human history. For example the German philosopher Georg Hegel. He stated that history is run by a global spirit. In conclusion this meant that all events and every historical evolution was preset by this global spirit. Even the actions of individuals played their part in this ‘higher plan’. Summarized: The situation is the way it is because it has to be like this; there is no alternative. This kind of thinking draws a very dark picture of the possibilities we as individuals have to change society and therefore does not represent my way of thinking.
Another concept is called constructivism and states that social reality is constructed within a society. This concept aligns pretty well with the many-worlds interpretation as both state the possibility that reality is not preset and that the current circumstances could be completely different. Relating to the short statements at the beginning of this article, which were filled with stereotypes and not reflected social facts, we as a society should think more about our ability to drive change. This ability is maybe the most consistent fact in our lives. For centuries the ability of reflection, and as a result change, has been oppressed by various forces. Nowadays we start to understand these processes of oppression better. Through education and reflection we’re gradually moving towards a system where an individual is able to change society. We’re enabling a mindset where it’s possible to overcome the self set boundaries or with the words of Immanuel Kant:
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.” (1784)
Changing the focus and view society has on it’s own history and the way it was created establishes a powerful tool that requires constant efforts to utilize it in a right way. It’s maybe the most powerful and challenging tool we as society have ever been entitled to.
Impact on social science
So in summary what can social scientists learn from the connections described earlier? For sure a lot. In my opinion two things are especially important to focus on:
- Bringing theories and explanations from natural science into social science allows us to take a completely new shot towards constructivism and other similar concepts. It exemplifies that everyday life and society are not this way by nature but created by people and therefore by choice. From early works of constructivism to this day the belief that society creates a space of definitions and preconditions for individuals to live in has been retained. Social scientists have to embrace the challenge of deconstructing these definitions and preconditions. Arguing from two different point of views – social science and natural science – might help to drive the success of this process of enlightenment.
- Interdisciplinary research, particularly between social science and natural science, is extremely important for the future. It’s not a good strategy at all to ignore other branches of science. Social science has to pick up and include these findings more frequently in everyday work and research. Overcoming the exclusivity might help us to find new answers to the basic questions of social science.
By no means can this article be considered to display all of the connections between social science and natural science in the shape of the many-worlds interpretation. A closer look will be necessary to come up with a comprehensive concept of understanding. Nevertheless I hope that this will be the starting point of a broader discussion and process of reflection.