Physics can do everything

We physicists are getting into everything. Now, it seems there's something called 'social physics'. There must be something to it because so far this week I've come across two articles in this 'social physics' field.

The first paper is related to food, specifically the staying power of cultural and national dishes.


Food is an essential part of civilization, with a scope that ranges from the biological to the economic and cultural levels. Here, we study the statistics of ingredients and recipes taken from Brazilian, British, French and Medieval cookery books. We find universal distributions with scale invariant behaviour. We propose a copy-mutate process to model culinary evolution that fits our empirical data very well. We find a cultural `founder effect' produced by the non-equilibrium dynamics of the model. Both the invariant and idiosyncratic aspects of culture are accounted for by our model, which may have applications in other kinds of evolutionary processes.

The second article from the July issue of Physics Today. It's a more general news article about how social networks are starting to attract physicists and mathematicians.

From the article:

Researchers studying self-organizing social networks look at how links are formed between individuals, whether some individuals or nodes are better connected than others, and the collective action or behavior of the entire network. In the past social scientists relied on surveys and questionnaires, but on the Web "social behavior is self-documenting—it leaves traces behind," says Microsoft research sociologist Marc Smith, who studies and designs improvements for social online applications.

Some condensed-matter physicists are drawn to social network modeling because it is similar to a many-body problem, says Huberman. Like spin-glass materials that have disordered and unpaired magnetic spins, individuals have conflicting interactions with their neighbors, and their uniqueness leads to disorder, says Université de Paris-Sud physicist Marc Mézard. It's a patent from Mézard's spin-glass theory work that is now paying off for Microsoft: He, Chayes, and collaborators are using that patent to solve optimization problems such as sending messages from one node to others, bypassing intermediates.

See, there's physics in everything!