Theory & Science (2001)

ISSN: 1527-5558

A Physico-social Theory Of Weberian Ideal-types:
The Newtonian Deconstruction Of Classical Sociology

L. Frederick Zaman III
Neural Engineering Research & Development
Hill AFB


Bruno Latour in ‘When things strike back: a possible contribution of “science studies” to the social sciences’ (Latour, 2000) noted that ‘The contribution of the field of science and technology studies (STS) to mainstream sociology has so far been slim because of a misunderstanding about what it means to provide a social explanation for a piece of science or of an artifact.’ I proposed earlier (Zaman, 2001a) to diminish this misunderstanding through a basic example of ‘postmodern science’—a social explanation of that piece of science known as Newton’s laws of motion. The proposed ‘social explanation’, it is suggested, provides insight into what Latour calls a necessary ‘deep redescription of what is a social explanation.’ And through the example provided, the social sciences perhaps can start to imitate the natural sciences, but—as advocated by Latour—in a way very different than before. For a Latourian ‘deep redescription’ of the social, developed in terms of a corresponding redescription of Newton’s laws of motion using equivalent physico-social forces, truly reconfigures the meanings of what it is to be ‘social’ and what it is to do ‘science.’ I suggested in the earlier essay that the redescription of Newton’s laws of motion using equivalent physico-social forces may allow the practitioners of social science to accomplish, at least in principle, what previously has been limited to the natural sciences.

Latour identifies two explanations, one conservative and one daring, for the apparent resistance of natural objects to social explanation (Latour, 2000: 112-117). The conservative explanation, held by the conservative side of the current ‘science wars’ ongoing in academia (those labeled ‘science warriors’ by postmodernists), is simply that the facts of nature escape the social order. The daring one, held by Latour and a few others in philosophy, sociology, and anthropology, is that the origin of this problem lies in the apparent absence of any general feature of natural objects that can be replaced by something of a social nature that is empirically equivalent. A social explanation of natural phenomena, as told by Latour (Latour, 2000: 109), replaces some object pertaining to nature by another one pertaining to society, which can be demonstrated to be its true substance. The ‘something else’ of a social origin that replaces some thing or object in nature, in a social explanation of natural phenomena, is necessarily some social function or social factor. What social functions or social factors could possibly lie hidden in nature, waiting for social scientists to uncover? What is it that lies hidden or disguised in nature, which really requires a social rather than natural explanation?

The solution I suggested earlier simply replaces the general concept of a spatial, physico-chemical force with an empirically equivalent non-spatial, physico-social force, through a Latourian deep redescription of that piece of science called Newton’s ‘laws of motion’. And on this basis it should be possible for STS to go forward, in a representation and analysis of the actual doing of science, that includes both ‘objects’ and ‘subjects’ within a single framework. The physico-social context thereby established for reinterpreting classical physics reconfigures in a fundamental way the meanings of the words ‘social’ and ‘science.’ For this context shows how it can be that, in the words of Bruno Latour, ‘The social is not a [separate] domain, but only one voice in the assemblies that make up things in this new (very old) political forum: the progressive [from the physical up through the biological and social] composition of the common world.’

Latour addressed the possibility of a ‘golden age for the social sciences’ (Latour, 2000: 117-121). However, he suggested that this age may arrive only after the social sciences finally abandon their present, unfruitful imitation of the natural sciences, by pursuing a common world in which sociology becomes a physical sociology, rather than a purely social sociology or sociobiology. And it is Latour’s suggested composition of the common world, in terms of the novel physical-to-social transposition of Newton’s laws of motion addressed earlier, that the present essay on a physico-social theory for Weber’s ideal-types methodology is concerned.

The postmodern methodology of ‘deconstruction’ will be used here. To ‘deconstruct’ something, in the postmodern idiom, is to open it up to view, to demystify it, to bring out what it fails to mention, excludes or conceals (Rosenau, 1992: 117-121). Postmodern deconstruction, as it pertains to a theory or point of view in science, thus brings out into the open that which the theory or viewpoint tends—whether intentionally or not—to suppress or make obscure. Considered in the present context, what does Latour’s physical sociology as presented tend to suppress or make obscure? I suggest that what Latour’s sociological theorizing (unintentionally) tends to do in this regard, and thereby actually inhibit the development of a physical sociology, is to fail to address the basics of physical theory and how they may be related to social phenomena. If sociology is to become a true ‘physical sociology’ as Latour proposes, then the basic theories of physics must be addressed, in a way that their relevance for a ‘physical sociology’ becomes clear.

Weber’S Ideal-Types

Ideal-Type Typology

The terms of such an engagement will be as previously defined (Zaman, 2001a). The physico-social theory of agent causation in the essay just cited will be applied to the ‘ideal-types’ methodology of Max Weber (Freund, 1998; Albrow, 1990; Swingewood, 2000: 88-111; Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 117-139; Turner et al., 1998: 137-188), including his ideal-types typology: the instrumentally rational, value-rational, traditional, and affectual (Turner, et al., 1998: 116-22, 159-61). These basic ideal-types are here represented using the bra-ket <> notation of quantum mechanics, which is a probabilistic notation that here will represent Weber’s probabilistic ideal-types of rationalized instrumentality, valuation, tradition, and affect. These probabilistic ‘sociological observables’, whose rationality is represented by the Greek letter ψ, will be symbolically represented by <ψi>, <ψv>, < ψt>, and <ψa> respectively, where the straight-underlined (italicized) and wavy-underlined (boldfaced) symbols represent scalars and vectors respectively. This notation also will denote the psychological ‘bracketing’ of phenomena, which in objectivist social analysis (Heritage, 1987: 231-2) is for the purpose of examining and describing social phenomena dispassionately with as few presuppositions as possible.

Ideal-Type Dynamics

The rationalized dynamics of Weberian ideal-types thus posited parallels the nonrational dynamics of physical systems given by Newton’s laws of motion probabilistically stated:

<p> = <m| v> : <f> = d<p>/dt : <f1> = -<f2>

The terms <m>, <v>, <p>, and <f> in these equations, statistical representations of the conventional mass, velocity, momentum, and force of classical physics (whose expectation values are obtained through successive measurements in a given experiment repeated a sufficient number of times), are related via a physical-to-social transposition of Newtonian causation to corresponding probabilistic terms in equivalent ‘laws of motion’ for the postulated Weberian social dynamics:

<v> = <ψv> : <m> = <ψi> : <p> = <ψt> : <f> = <ψa>.

So that we then have the following functional equivalencies between the physical and social:

  1. Rationalized ‘valuation’ is the social equivalent of a nonrational ‘velocity’ (defines some allowed or expected motion or behavior).
  2. Rationalized ‘instrumentality’ is the social equivalent of a nonrational inertial ‘mass’ (tends to maintain the allowed or expected motion or behavior).
  3. Rationalized ‘tradition’ is the social equivalent of a nonrational ‘momentum’.
  4. Rationalized ‘affect’ is the social equivalent of a nonrational accelerative ‘force’.

A Weberian social dynamics then, by analogy with Newtonian mechanics, will define the tradition ideal-type <ψt> as the product (<ψi | ψv>) of ‘traditional’ means and ends, the change in tradition by the equation <ψa> = d<ψt>/dt, and related social interaction through the equation <ψa> = -<ψb>. Equivalent ‘laws of motion’ for social systems are thereby proposed, where the expectation values of the variables behave the same as the corresponding observables of Newtonian mechanics. Newton’s laws of motion thus transposed then become the mathematical basis for a rationalized dynamics of social systems in which the momentum, force, and action-reaction of physical systems are transformed into empirically identical—but causally differentiated—principles for social systems. The ‘tradition’ ideal-type, the analog of momentum in this physico-social transposition of Newtonian mechanics, will often be referred to as social continuity in what follows.

A Weberian Synthesis

This Newtonian-based interpretation of Weber’s ideal-types provides a general framework for analyzing the dynamics of social phenomena. The first application to be discussed is the ‘breaching experiment’ of Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology (Turner, 1998: 418-9), which can be used to explore the quasi-Newtonian dynamics of subjectively perceived normality. The breaching experiment, understood in these terms, in effect causes subject actions that either (1) affirm and sustain the continuity qua momentum of the total social system composed of subject and related ‘experimental apparatus’, or (2) reflect affective forces that cause some change in the total continuity qua momentum. Garfinkel’s breaching experiments thus provide a methodology for confirming or refuting the posited physico-social theory at a microsocial level.

Various elements found within the theories of Sigmund Freud (Collins and Makowski, 1998: 140-159) and Talcott Parsons (pp. 212-21) then will be considered in these terms. The ego in Freud’s ‘psychic apparatus’ can be defined in total as a physico-social continuity <ψt> qua momentum, in which case the id is then the psychic source of affectual forces <ψa>, which are then interrelated by <ψa> = d<ψt>/dt. The instrumentalities <ψi> and valuations <ψv> are respectively the instrumental ego and valuational or superego in Freudian metaphysics, with the ego overall represented by the physico-social momentum <ψt> = <ψi|ψv>. And with Freud’s psychic apparatus thus understood, Talcott Parsons’ extension of Freudian theory to social systems then effectively becomes quasi-Newtonian because the affective forces thereof, although they are immanent and self-impressed rather than externally impressed (Zaman, 2001a), nevertheless can be analyzed in Newtonian terms.

The physico-social theory of Weberian ideal-types is then applied to the cyclic social theory of Vilfredo Pareto (Collins and Makowski, 1998: 207-11; Turner, et al., 1998: 287-329). Pareto’s cycles of social sentiment and politics are merged into a single social dynamics in which societal motion is cyclic and revolves around the society’s collective self, called the ‘id’ in Freudian terms. So that that which is cyclic and revolves around the nonrational, affective self or id of a given social order is its rationalized ‘ego’. The quasi-Newtonian forces of the id always are centripetal (directed toward the collective id), unless perturbed by external forces (whether real or mythical).

Pareto partitioned the leaders of the elite that control society, which are dominant in different phases of the social-life cycle of a self-determined collective, into ‘lions’ and ‘foxes’. The lions are dominant in the spring-summer phase of Figure 1, while the foxes are dominant in the fall-winter phase—the respective social ideals of which are conservatism and utilitarianism vs. liberalism and individualism. The ‘seasons’ of a collective thus determined—by analogy with the seasons of the earth as it orbits the sun—are four: the collective’s spring of faith, summer of solidarity, fall of skepticism, and winter of alienation. And the ‘deities’ (star constellations) observed in the ideological heavens of such collectives during each season are Conservatism, Utilitarianism, Liberalism, and Individualism respectively. Pareto’s economic cycle, although clearly related to this social dynamics, is not directly addressed in this paper.

Ideal-Type Dynamics

Basic Principles

Returning now to Weber’s ideal-types methodology, the ideal-type <ψt> for ‘rationalized tradition’ represents continuity in social ‘means and ends’, which are the means and ends of social ‘traditions’ very broadly interpreted—whether that of a society, institution or other collective, or the individuals therein. <ψt> thus has two components: the ideal-type <ψi> for ‘rationalized instrumentality’ (means/methods) and the ideal-type <ψv> for ‘rationalized valuation’ (ends/objectives). The product of these two, the means and ends of social traditions, defines a collective’s social momentum:

<ψt> = <ψi|ψv>.

A collective’s traditions and momentum thus are an identity in this model. The traditions of a society or other collective constitute its momentum and vice-versa. The social continuity <ψt> qua momentum is actively maintained by instrumentalities <ψi> (means) that affirm the valuations <ψv> (ends). <ψi> and <ψv> are both rationalized through supporting mental processes—which may (and generally will) include both conscious and unconscious elements. Social tradition thus generally defined, as the means-ends product <ψi|ψv> of social agents, processes, structures, etc. (everything used to realize and enforce such traditions), establishes both the methods and objectives (the expectation values thereof) ‘traditionally’ (that is habitually, conventionally, typically, etc.) manifested by an individual, group, class, culture, institution, or other collective. The implication of this conception of society is that—as common sense would suggest—any social order that rapidly and continually undergoes change and thereby loses its sense of tradition, will either become a much different society or cease to be altogether.

Changes in the traditions of a social order are then represented by the dynamical equation

<ψa> = d<ψt>/dt,

which is the physico-social transposition of Newton’s second law of motion. The source of social change in this model, which is any change in the physico-social continuity qua momentum—whether of the means or ends—of an individual, group, class, culture, institution or other collective, is represented by the ideal-type <ψa> for ‘rationalized affect’. As shown above <ψa> is directly related to the time change of the ideal-type <ψt> for ‘rationalized tradition’. Changes in <ψt> may involve <ψi>, <ψv>, or both; when <ψi> changes the means instantiated in <ψt> are modified, but if <ψv> changes, then the ends <ψt> change.

A physico-social law of action-reaction, corresponding to Newton’s third law of motion, then becomes

<ψa1> = -<ψa2>,

so that the interactions within and between social systems causing change are formally equivalent to Newtonian action-reaction. These social forces, depending on the nature thereof, may be attractive, repulsive, or even lateral (transverse forces analogous to the non-conservative forces of electromagnetics). The character of such forces must be specified in the force laws thereof, which may be analogs of those in classical mechanics, electromagnetics, etc..

Weber opposed objectively determined laws, such as those of Newtonian mechanics for example, that eliminate the active and conscious elements of a social system. Such laws, and the various external elements that they determine, do not take into account the subjective meaning that a social actor attaches to behavior generally (Swingewood, 2000: 89). In the present physico-social approach, however, these objections are not relevant because the transposition of Newton’s laws of motion suggested is fundamentally concerned with the active and conscious elements of a culture. Thus transposed, Newton’s laws are directly concerned with the subjective meaning that social actors attach to behavior. The behavior addressed by the Newtonian concepts and principles thus transposed is intentional behavior that involves motives and feelings. Meaningful, purposeful action rather than blind mechanical behavior is the foundation of this physico-social perspective of social causation, so that the action each actor takes towards others is both meaningful and intentional.

The idea in the natural and social sciences, apparently widely prevalent, that the mathematical laws of classical physics apply only to the mechanistic behavior of ‘extensional’ systems (Wilson, 1987), is a myth from the present viewpoint. These laws, when reformulated in more general physico-social terms that apply to all forces whether the systems are extensional (mechanistic) or intensional (subjectivist), perhaps can be directly applied to the social action of conscious, intelligent, purposeful human beings as well.

Microsocial Dynamics

What do Weberian ideal-types defined within a Newtonian framework mean in personal terms? When interpreted at the level of one’s personal existence, and viewed at the highest level thereof, the instrumental ideal-type <ψi> includes such instrumentalities as those needed to get an education, marry, become a scientist, etc. While the corresponding valuation ideal-type <ψv> represents the personal reasons one gets an education, marries, becomes a scientist, etc. So that, at any given moment, the product <ψi|ψv> then represents the physico-social continuity qua momentum of one’s personal life, including the means thereof and reasons therefore. The means-ends ideal-type <ψi|ψv> thus represents the personal continuity (traditions) of one’s life, which change only through the ‘rationalized affect’ of forces <ψa> arising within, whether these forces have been openly expressed (to oneself or others) or hidden (from others, possibly from oneself as well).

The possibilities in this elementary example of personal dynamics are numerous to say the least. For example, if the individual in the above example abandons the pursuit of higher education at some point, it will be due to some significant affectual force <ψa>. An example of this force might be the individual’s failing to make the minimum required test score on an important career related academic achievement test, the influence of which on the individual’s continuance of his or her college education was substantial (if it didn’t, then it wouldn’t constitute an affectual force). This force, if it occurred as indicated and resulted in the individual’s failure to obtain a degree and related career loss, would modify the person’s physico-social continuity/momentum <ψi|ψv> by changing her or his valuations <ψv> and/or instrumentalities < ψi>. Any significant change in mind or behavior concerning an important aspect of one’s personal life will involve changes in the momentum <ψi|ψv> that propels life forward; but this can occur only through affectual forces <ψa> arising within.

Every change in the continuity qua momentum of an individual requires some form of affectual interaction that fulfills the quasi-Newtonian ‘interaction’ property <ψa1> = -<ψa2>. It is this property of agent action-reaction through which any change occurs in the means-ends continuity <ψi|ψv> of persons. And because of this, every affective force <ψa> manifested within one person (action) will be coordinate with a corresponding affective force (reaction) within others to which the person is socially connected; whether of other significant individuals, family, social groups, institutions or whatever (whose magnitude of reaction may be great or small, positive or negative). And the reactions of these related social entities can be explained as well, and perhaps even predicted in some cases, through probabilities established using quasi-Newtonian principles of physico-social continuity and change.

Ethnomethodological Studies

The Ethnomethodological Perspective

Ethnomethodology is concerned with establishing the properties of practical common-sense reasoning in every-day situations. The objective is to discover how social actors create, assemble, produce and reproduce the social structures to which they orient, while at the same time refraining from judgements that either endorse or undermine their efforts. With their actions thus “bracketed’, the practical activities of social actors and their properties are examined with as few presuppositions, and as dispassionately, as possible. Ethnomethodological research is based on the precept that the ‘perceived normality of events’ is key to understanding the behavior, feelings, motives, relationships and other socially organized features of everyday life. Garfinkel developed an experimental methodology called the ‘breaching experiment’, which is designed to determine the social actor’s perceived normality by exploring a social actor’s responses to the violation, or breaching, of various forms of perceived normality. (Turner, 1998: 418-9; Heritage, 1987: 231-2).

The research program and related breaching experiments of ethnomethodology can be directly applied to the Newtonian-based, physico-social perspective of behavior, feelings and motives described in this paper. Conversely, the physico-social perspective of behavior, feeling, and motives described here also can be regarded as a substantive theoretical basis for ethnomethodological programs generally. The dynamical perspective needed for ethnomethodological studies is obtained by simply noting that the experimental subject’s sense of ‘normality’ is in essence defined by the tradition ideal-type <ψt > interpreted at the individual level, which dynamically is the subject’s psychosocial momentum <ψi|ψv> whose components are the subject’s instrumentalities <ψi> (means, methods) and valuations <ψv> (ends, goals). The breaching experiments of ethnomethodology then determine the means <ψi> normally used by an experimental subject to sustain the ends or goals <ψv> he or she normally pursues (under the conditions defined by the experiment). These experiments also can demonstrate the ‘supernormal’ affectual forces < ψa> that arise when the subject’s sense of normality—as defined by either the subject’s normal instrumentalities <ψi> or normal valuations <ψv>—has been violated by the experiment. Breaching experiments thus provide a methodology at the microsocial level for establishing or refuting the proposed Newtonian basis for social action.

Empirically Oriented Definitions

The empirical concepts needed for a dynamical interpretation of ethnomethodological studies are easily developed. The term ‘rationalization’ as employed here doesn’t imply whether the subject’s reasoning is good or bad, valid or invalid. The rationalization referred to simply consists of those activities and processes of mind that justify (consciously or unconsciously) to an experimental subject what is or should be happening (or is not or should not be happening). As previously indicated the Greek letter ψ represents ideal-type rationality or rationalization, while the Dirac bra-ket symbols <>, similar to their use in quantum mechanics to denote expectation values of probability, here indicate the probabilistic nature of dynamical ideal-types in ethnomethodological studies:

<ψi>: the probabilistic ‘rationalized instrumentality’ through which a subject maintains her or his perceived normality during a given breaching experiment, which instrumentalities include the subject’s perceptual abilities, cognition, behavior, attitude, affect, expectation, or other relevant attributes. The symbol italics denote a ‘scalar’ quantity that has no specific direction (goal), so that <ψi> represents capabilities that—generally speaking—can be applied to different objectives.
<ψv>: the probabilistic ‘rationalized valuation’ that defines the goals and objectives the subject perceives to be ‘normal’ within the context of the breaching experiment. <ψv> includes the maxims, rules, norms, processes, structures, etc. that the subject perceives to be operative during the experiment, which inform and direct the subject’s associated ‘rationalized instrumentalities’ <ψi>. < ψv>, as indicated by boldface type, is a vector quantity that has ‘direction’, because the valuations thereof are the various goals and objectives that define, within the context of the experiment, the subject’s sense of what is expected. The directional properties of <ψv> and other vectors in this dynamical theory can be represented in an abstract system space (configuration space, state space, behavioral space, etc.) constructed for the experiment at hand.
<ψt>: the probabilistic ‘rationalized tradition’ of a subject, which represents en total the subject’s sense of normality regarding the ‘means and ends’ available in the experiment in which he or she is the subject, which therefore includes both the subject’s ‘rationalized instrumentality’ <ψi> and associated ‘rationalized valuation’ <ψv>. < ψt> is a vector pointing in the same direction as <ψv>.
<ψa>: the probabilistic ‘rationalized affect’ of a subject, which is the cause of all changes observed in a subject’s perceived normality during the course (trajectory) of a breaching experiment, as defined by the subject’s ‘rationalized tradition’ <ψt>. <ψa> also is a vector that points in some ‘direction’, but not necessarily the same direction as <ψt>. The affectual forces represented by <ψa> are immanent, self-impressed and self-directed, however, rather than externally impressed and externally directed.

Dynamical Relationships

The above ideal-types for ethnomethodological studies are physico-social analogs of (inertial) mass, velocity, momentum, and force in Newtonian mechanics. The posited mathematical relationships between these ideal-types, derived by analogy from Newtonian mechanics, are:

<ψt> = <ψi|ψv> : The subject’s ‘rationalized tradition’ <ψt> is a vector equal to the product of the subject’s scalar <ψi > (rationalized instrumentality)and vector <ψv> (rationalized valuation). <ψi > represents the means justified by the experimental subject’s rationality and sense of normality, while <ψv> represents ends the subject similarly justifies. <ψt>, which is the social analog of the momentum of a physical system, is responsible for the continuity over time of subjectively sensed normality during a breaching experiment.
<ψa> = d<ψt>/dt : The subject’s ‘rationalized affect’ <ψa> is always correlated with the time change of the subject’s continuity/momentum <ψt> (rationalized tradition), whether the change occurs in the scalar means <ψi >, vector ends <ψv>, or both. <ψa> represents the affectual forces employed by the subject in changing his or her <ψt> during the experiment, as justified by the subject’s rationality. <ψa>, which is the psychosocial analog of physical force in a breaching experiment, produces all changes in the subject’s perceived normality during the experiment. The change in perceived normality induced is always self-induced, however, because the subject’s affectual forces <ψa> are always immanent and self-induced rather than externally-impressed.
<ψa1> = -<ψa2> : According to this principle the forces of ‘rationalized affect’ operating within an experimental subject always will be balanced by related forces of ‘rationalized affect’ operating within those conducting the experiment. So that a change in the subjectively sensed normality of an experimental subject will be balanced by a related change in the experimenter’s sense of normality. Whether the change in perceived normality experienced by the experimenter is large or small, however, relative to the associated change experienced by the subject, will be determined by the relative magnitudes of their respective experimental ‘traditions’ or ‘momenta’ (subject <ψt> vs. experimenter <ψt>). A highly trained and experienced ‘experimenter’ (the one controlling the experiment), of course, will subjectively sense much less change within herself or himself (possess a sense of familiarity and normality) during the course of the experiment than one just beginning such work.
These are the basic terms and principles of a probabilistic, quasi-Newtonian framework for ethnomethodological studies. It may be that the probabilistic calculations of this theoretical foundation for ethnomethodological studies can be handled in ways similar to the calculation of expectation values in quantum mechanics—through some form of matrix mechanics perhaps. The pursuit of such capability should lie within the domain of present day mathematical sociology (Fararo, 1978).

The Individual and Collective Psyche

Freudian Metaphysics

An analogy with Sigmund Freud’s Newtonian-inspired ‘psychic apparatus’ (Yankelovich and Barrett, 1970: 52-82) should clarify the psychodynamics of the suggested physico-social ‘equations of motion’ at the personal level. These Newtonian-based equations for social system dynamics can be applied to Freudian metaphysics by interpreting the sociologically transposed terms thereof within a psychodynamic framework:

<ψv> = ‘psychic valuation’ functional: specifies the magnitude and orientation of psyche ‘motion’ (mental activity) allowed by the maxims, rules, norms, processes, structures, and other entities that guide and constrain mind and behavior.

<ψi> = ‘psychic instrumentality’ functional: specifies the instrumental means through which the psyche realizes the valuation functional <ψv> to the extent possible. Such means include perception, cognition, behavior, affect, intentionality, and/or expectation. The instrumentality <ψi> is actualized or fulfilled at any given time by psychic energy within that drives the instrumentalities < ψi>, which by analogy with the theory of special relativity is an equivalence of psychic mass and energy.
<ψt> = ‘psychic continuity’ functional: a combined functional in which <ψt> = <ψi|ψv>, which whether qualitatively or quantitatively represents psyche continuity in Newtonian terms as psychic ‘momentum.’
<ψa> = ‘psychic change’ functional: specifies the affective forces within the psyche that whether consciously or unconsciously internally modify its continuity qua momentum <ψt>, whether by modifying the psyche’s means <ψi> (instrumentalities), ends <ψv> (valuations), or both.

In Freudian metaphysics, the psychic source of valuation <ψv> is the ‘superego’, the source of instrumentality <ψi> the ‘ego’, and the source of affect <ψa> the ‘id’. The ego in its totality, including its instrumentality and valuation, thus is <ψt> or <ψi|ψv>. In this quasi-Newtonian framework, the psychic forces <ψa> arising out of the id are the source of all changes that occur, in either the instrumentality <ψi> of the ego or valuation <ψv> of the superego. The id’s affective forces <ψa> and ego’s instrumental mass <ψi> thus are in basic conflict here, for they are in opposition (i.e. changing vs. keeping unchanged) with regard to the psyche momentum <ψt>. That is, the id’s forces <ψa> strive to modify the developed (or developing) psyche, whether its ego or superego components; while the ego’s instrumentalities <ψi> (inertial mass) strive to maintain the psyche’s present valuations <ψv>. The continuity or momentum <ψt>, which represents the ego in its totality as the psychic means-ends product <ψi|ψv>, is thus responsible for that continuity of the psyche observed over time (whether normal, subnormal, supernormal or whatever) resulting from the interplay of these causal elements. Yankelovich’s diagram of the psychic apparatus (p. 58) suggests that the id is an elementary source of psychic energy that tends to drive the psyche in many different directions, while the ego serves a regulatory function that tends to adapt and maintain psyche movement in specific ‘directions’. This diagram is appropriate here as well, because it correctly depicts the operation of the psychic apparatus described here more fully in quasi-Newtonian terms.

Clinical Considerations

Also in this account of Freudian metaphysics, the social intercourse between two individuals—the patient and therapist for example, which in a clinical setting is mediated by the psychic apparatus’ of both patient and therapist, is governed by Newton’s transposed third law of motion on action-reaction, <ψa1> = -<ψa2>. Interactions between therapist and patient that actually produce a change in the psychic constitution of the patient, whether in the patient’s instrumentalities <ψi> or valuations <ψv>, then produce a related change of some sort in the therapist as well (whether large or small), whether in the therapist’s instrumentalities <ψi> or valuations <ψv> (for either better or worse). And for both individuals, the forces for change that arise always originate within the id, which is the psychic source of the ‘creative sparks’ that induce change within the ego, whether of the patient or therapist. Such changes, insofar as they are helpful to the patient, are generally called ‘therapeutic transference,’ and the ‘real relationship’ (vis-à-vis the ‘projective relationship’) thereby hopefully formed is called the ‘therapeutic alliance’ (pp.171-2).

A major factor in the interactions between id and ego is something psychotherapists call ‘repression’ (Collins and Makowski, 1998: 144-50), which seemingly is the ego’s suppression of the id’s ‘libido’ or psychic energy. So that one of the key objectives of the therapeutic alliance is to uncover and overcome such repression, which clinically is observed to be the cause of patient neuroses. Understood in terms of the present Newtonian transposition, repression is explained by simply noting that when d<ψi|ψv>/dt = 0 the ego’s momentum is unchanging, in which case <ψa> = 0 as well so that there is no coherent expression of the id’s forces represented by <ψa>. That is, when it is not changing but constant, the ego’s momentum <ψi|ψv> in effect ‘represses’ any coherent expression of the id’s affective forces. In this physical-to-social transposition of Newtonian law then, the id’s ‘mistaken’ expressions (Freudian slips) are simply random fluctuations in libido that the ego tends to suppress, which mistakes indicate to knowledgeable clinicians what the ego actually is doing—all protestations and deceptions to the contrary notwithstanding.

So, the only time the id’s overt expressions do not reflect the ego’s current state of psychic momentum <ψi|ψv> (randomly, accidentally) is when the id’s expressions are neither random nor accidental, because of a coherence (intentionality) externally induced in accordance with the therapist-patient interaction equation, <ψat> = -<ψap>. When this coherence arises, the expressions of affect coming out of the patient (the id) are no longer random (mistaken) but coherent (intentional), which coherence in affect acts as a force that modifies the ego, superego, or both. This situation amounts to < ψat> in the previous therapist-patient interaction equation defining a coherence in therapist’s affective forces (which are the id’s creative sparks), which thereby induces a related coherence <ψap> in the patient’s affective forces, which then causes an internally directed change (hopefully therapeutic) in the patient’s psychic continuity qua momentum <ψi |ψv> p, over time as therapy proceeds via Newton’s transposed second law of motion.

The converse also is true, however. That same interaction will cause a corresponding change of some degree in the therapist’s psychic continuity/momentum <ψi|ψv> t, which will be determined by the ‘size’ of the therapist’s ego (effectiveness of therapist’s means-ends in the clinical setting rather than any conceit) relative to that of the patient’s. The psychic ‘momentum’ of the therapist hopefully is much greater than that of the patient, however, by virtue of her or his training, experience, and natural ability in the clinical setting, so that the patient will be the primary source of change in this interaction. The therapist’s ‘momentum <ψi|ψv> t, which is his or her dynamic repository of ‘means and ends’ in the clinical setting, thus is key to producing therapeutic change in patients.

The Collective Psyche

The psychic sources of valuation <ψv>, instrumentality <ψi>, and affect <ψa>, respectively found in the superego, ego, and id in Freudian metaphysics, are not limited to individuals however, and can be applied to social collectives as well. This Freudian conception of social order is thus directly related to Parsons’ view in which each collective is founded on a social ‘value system’ that it passes down through the generations (pp. 215-8). In the terms of Parsonian social theory, the valuation <ψv> (collective superego) represents the societal value system of which Parsons speaks, while <ψi> (collective ego) represents the instrumentalities by which the collective maintains this system. So that the traditions of a collective, those that make it what it is through the generations, are its physico-social continuity/momentum <ψt> = <ψi|ψv> (product of ego and superego). The Parsonian ‘upgrading’ of a society, in this view, is due to the internal psychic forces of a collective id <ψa>, such that <ψa> = d<ψt>/dt, where different psychic elements within the collective id (or even external to the society itself) interact according to <ψa1> = -< ψa2>. The equivalent ‘psychic apparatus’ of an interest group, class, culture, or institution thus can be constructed and used in the Parsonian analysis of social systems generally. But, in whatever application, the collective psychic functionals <ψi>, <ψv>, <ψt>, and <ψa> are dynamically interrelated according to the physical-to-social transposition of Newtonian concepts and principles presented here.

One example might be Weber’s Protestant Ethic (1958), regarded as the collective, social manifestation of a European ‘psychic apparatus’. In the Parsonian worldview as interpreted here, along Newtonian lines, the transformation of the spiritual outlook of Medieval Europe—from one that largely excludes the world’s material values to one that includes those same values—is explained as the product of a collective social psyche that operates according to quasi-Newtonian principles of continuity and change. The social forces posited by Weber, to have arisen out of the Protestant ethic and occasioned the emergence of capitalism in Medieval Europe, then become the affectual forces <ψa> of a collective medieval ‘id’ that were impressed upon the medieval ‘ego’ <ψi|ψv>, and thereby were the long-time traditions (means and ends) of medieval life altered. The ego <ψi> and superego <ψv> of medieval sociality are its rationalized instrumentality and valuation respectively. <ψi> denotes those things in medieval times that were instrumental in maintaining the established way of life, and <ψv> then denotes the value system on which medieval life traditionally was founded.

The forces <ψa> of the collective medieval id, which were the coherent forces within that succeeded in changing medieval society, thus produced the changes observed in the medieval ego <ψi|ψv>, from the earlier ‘exclusion of material values’ (medieval ethic) to the later ‘inclusion of material values’ (modern Protestant ethic). These affectual forces arguably were based on a rejection by certain liberal elements within medieval society of the traditional view that spiritual and material values are incompatible. (Other non-Christian cultures may have been less dogmatic about this issue, so that a widespread rebellion against such a restrictive valuation and related instrumentalities was unnecessary.) A sociological transposition of Newtonian law that establishes the theoretical framework for a postmodern synthesis of Weberian, Freudian, and Parsonian perspectives of society thus may support Weber’s view that the forces responsible for the emergence of capitalism arose out of what he called the Protestant ethic.

Cyclic Social Change

Vilfredo Pareto

Now consider the social system of classical sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (Blaug, 1992), in which societies have great stability, so that whenever something upsets the existing social order, a reaction then sets in to restore it to its former condition. In Pareto’s view, contrary to the Enlightenment faith in social progress and the upward evolution of society, a change in one direction is always compensated by a change in the opposite direction (Collins and Makowsky, 1998: 207-11). Pareto suggests that the mechanism responsible for cyclic change in the social order is the continual circulation, into and out of positions of power, of two different types of the social elite: one conservative and paternalistic that he called ‘lions,’ and the other liberal and individualistic called ‘foxes’. The elite’s lions, which first establish a social order that is paternalistic (supposedly) and generally coercive, are action oriented; while the elite foxes, which strive to transform society into a social system that is liberal and maximally free of constraint, are fundamentally reactionist. And based on this mechanism of the circulation of elite lions and foxes, into and out of positions of power (by whatever means), he developed a general theory that includes three basic, interrelated social cycles of non-economic sentiment (conservatism vs. liberalism), economics, and politics.

A two dimensional representation of Pareto’s system is shown in Figure 1, which can be regarded as depicting the quasi-Newtonian ‘natural motion’ of societies that are fundamentally self-determined, which here is called the ‘social-life cycle of self-determined collectives’. External forces do not produce this motion, so the social-life cycle thus represented reflects Aristotle’s distinction between natural and violent motion, because the above life cycle—being caused by innate affective forces originating within the social order—constitutes natural motion. The motion Aristotle called violent motion, caused by external forces originating without the society, would cause a collective to deviate in some way from the postulated innate social-life cycle.

Figure 1 is essentially a synthesis of what Pareto called the social cycles of sentiment and politics, which here are orthogonal and lie along different dimensions of social space. A three-dimensional synthesis could include Pareto’s economic cycle, which would lie along another dimension orthogonal to the first two, whose cycles Pareto suggested are essentially in phase with the political cycle (along the utilitarian-individualist continuum). It may be, however, that the relation of the economic cycle with the other two is more complex than Pareto supposed. For the external forces generating ‘violent motion’ within a social order, which in modern societies may be driven primarily by economic considerations, may lie predominately along the economic cycle’s third dimension (regulated-free market continuum?). I suggest this only as a possibility to be considered.

Freudian Metaphysics

Figure 1 conforms in spirit to the basic metaphysics of Freudian psychology, in that a collective id, shown as a central body whose psychic ‘gravity field’ is an affective force causing a society’s collective ego to gravitate toward and continually orbit its collective id. These innate forces of society serve to minimize the distance of a society’s ego from its id, so that the ego of a self-determined society is to its id as the earth is to the sun. Similar to our solar system then, in which the sun and earth form a single dynamical system, the forces of interaction between id and ego are internal to the system—so that collectives thus defined are self-determined.

This physical analogy also suggests the possibility of social systems in which the collective ego is fractionated into different parts with each having their own orbit (a solar system analogy). A further analogy with nuclear physics also suggests the possibility of a splitting of the collective id, through civil war; which, if such a war splits a society, nation, or other collective into separate systems with each having its own id (affective life) and ego (social momentum), effectively constitutes a social ‘fission’ reaction. Also, if a sufficient number of social systems (nations or states for example) are ‘densely packed’ (deeply interconnected), the nuclear (affective) splitting up of one such system could trigger the social equivalent of a nuclear (affective) ‘chain reaction’, which might result in a regional or world war, or cascading economic catastrophe.

Social domination theory

Let us now briefly return to Weber’s theory of social action, considered here with regard to the cyclical domination of society by the lions and foxes of the social elite. He named three basic forms of social domination: charismatic, traditional, and rational-legal (Turner, et al., 1998: 172-5). The first, charismatic domination, is likely to be the means by which society is dominated by those—whether lions or foxes—heralding society as seen looking forward to the future along the social-life cycle of Figure 1. This form of domination may be most effective for those seeking to change the course of society, in which case it is closely related to the affectual forces of the collective id that modify the course of society. Weber’s traditional domination, however, may be most effective for those seeking to preserve the present course of society. This form of domination thus seems to be more closely related to the momentum (ego) of society that tends to propel it along a linear course. Finally, Weber’s rational-legal domination, whether by society’s roaring lions or stealthy foxes, relates to the rational-legal structure that defines the society’s position along the cycle of Figure 1. This form of domination thus is more ‘position’ dependent.

Weber saw the sources of social change to be internal to society (pp. 181-2). The present model directly supports this understanding, for all changes in the course of the self-determined physico-social system shown in Figure 1 are based on forces and modes of domination arising from within. The ongoing ‘struggle for power’ within a self-determined society arises from forces that are inherent within the society itself. So, if Figure 1 correctly describes the ‘natural motion’ of self-determined societies as defined, it seems unlikely that modern science will find a way to alter the innate forces of society’s collective self so that the cycle of Figure 1 can be halted. These are primordial, nonrational forces that may well be beyond reason’s control; that is unless the Human Genome Project can uncover a gene for such forces and the biological sciences are allowed to reengineer human nature.

Social Cycle Phases/Transitions

Social cycle phases

The social-life cycle of Figure 1 has four phases A, B, C, and D, whose transition points are I, II, III, and IV. Below is a brief description of each phase:

Phase A: A collection of individuals, finding themselves without a determining social order (transition point I), either generally or with regard to particular issues, will—through elite ‘lions’ that arise—join together and establish a governing social order (transition point II) that is based on faith in certain conservative principles presupposed to be applicable in general or with respect to particular issues. The momentum of the collective social ego in this phase is predominantly conservative turning utilitarian, which resists but does not nullify the collective id’s affective ‘gravitational forces’ of utilitarianism (initially at point I) and liberalism (finally at point II). The affective live of the collective during this phase may include the general perception that a major social transformation is occurring, from a social order that was primarily individualistic to one that is predominantly conservative.

Phase B: Then, after the social order thus established is grounded on conservative principles (transition point II), the society’s elite lions—perhaps responding to powerful appeals by elite ‘foxes’ for a more broadly based social order—allow a moderating consensus to be formed (transition point III) that includes others holding more liberal views. The momentum of the collective social ego in this phase is predominantly utilitarian turning liberal, which resists but does not nullify the collective id’s affective ‘gravitational forces’ of liberalism (initially at point II) and individualism (finally at point III). The affective live of the collective during this phase may include the general perception that the social order is solid and will prevail against contrary forces.

Phase C: However, given that the established order is now (at transition point III) based on a more broadly based utilitarianism in which solidarity is the dominant principle, elite foxes are more influential and vigorously promote skepticism regarding conservative social principles, in order to replace society’s conservatism with a contrary liberalism (transition point IV). The momentum of the collective social ego in this phase is predominantly liberal turning individualist, which resists but does not nullify the collective id’s affective ‘gravitational forces’ of individualism (initially at point III) and conservatism (finally at point IV). The affective live of the collective during this phase might include the general perception that a major social transformation is occurring, from a social order that was primarily utilitarian to one that is predominantly liberal.

Phase D: Finally, with society now (at transition point IV) predominantly liberal, but which at the same time still occupies a middle ground between the opposing political forces of utilitarianism and individualism, society’s more aggressive foxes drive society onwards toward an unrestrained individualism (transition point I again) in which social solidarity is either marginalized or abandoned altogether. The momentum of the collective social ego in this phase is predominantly individualist turning conservative, which resists but does not nullify the collective id’s affective ‘gravitational forces’ of conservatism (initially at point III) and utilitarianism (finally at point IV). Moral confusion, even chaos thus may be the unavoidable end of a society that is wholly self-determined, so that such societies—if they survive the bitter winter of their alienation—will return once more to a conservative, paternalistic regime (point II again).

The progressive (ever advancing upward) view of society advocated by ‘The Enlightenment’ in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and supported metaphysically by the natural sciences over the past three hundred years, is thus not supported here. If the understanding of self-determined societies presented here is correct, then the progressive worldview of The Enlightenment is a myth.

Phase transitions

The cyclic change of self-determined collectives, at the transition points I-IV of the social-life cycle of Figure 1, can be further described as follows:

Transition point I: Collective processes and structures, to the extent that they actually exist, instantiate an alienated social order that maximizes individual freedom and minimizes social solidarity. The collective at this point is in the middle ground of the conservative-liberal continuum. The momentum of the collective ego at this point is directed normal to the utilitarian-individualist continuum and carries the collective toward increased conservatism. The utilitarian forces of the collective id dominant at point I, however, are normal (perpendicular) to the collective’s momentum (ego) and redirect it along the utilitarian-individualist continuum towards a conservatism that maximizes faith and minimizes skepticism.

Transition point II: Collective processes and structures instantiate a conservatism that maximizes faith in conservative principles that determine the way the social order should be, and minimizes skepticism related thereto. The collective at this point is in the middle ground of the utilitarian-individualist continuum. The momentum of the collective ego at this point is directed normal to the conservative-liberal continuum and carries the collective toward increased utilitarianism. The liberal forces of the collective id dominant at point II, however, are normal to the collective’s momentum (ego) and redirect it along the conservative-liberal continuum toward a utilitarianism that maximizes social solidarity and minimizes alienation.

Transition point III: Collective processes and structures instantiate a utilitarianism that maximizes solidarity and minimizes alienation. The collective at this point is once more in the middle ground of the conservative-liberal continuum. The momentum of the collective ego is directed normal to the utilitarian-individualist continuum the same as at point I, but which now carries the collective in the reverse direction towards increased liberalism. The individualist forces of the collective id dominant at point III, however, are normal to the collective’s momentum (ego) and redirect it along the utilitarian-individualist continuum toward a liberalism that maximizes skepticism and minimizes faith.

Transition point IV: Collective processes and structures instantiate a liberalism that maximizes skepticism about conservative principles. The collective at this point is once more in the middle ground of the utilitarian-individualist continuum. The momentum of the collective ego is directed normal to the conservative-liberal continuum the same as at point II, but which now carries the collective in the reverse direction towards increased individualism. The conservative forces of the collective id dominant at point IV, however, are normal to the collective’s momentum (ego) and redirect it along the conservative-liberal continuum towards an individualism that maximizes alienation and minimizes social solidarity.

It should be apparent that none of the affective forces directing the course of a wholly ‘self-determined society’ (the collective ego thereof), which always arise out of the collective id, has independent control. Also, whether of ‘ideological’ conservatism, liberalism, utilitarianism, or individualism, these forces do not directly determine the ‘position’ of a self-determined collective in the social-life cycle of Figure 1, which is determined instead by its processes and structures. These forces redirect the collective’s momentum (rationalized means and ends of the collective ego) so that the society is moving in the ‘correct’ direction toward its ‘proper’ position, and the desired changes in societal processes and structures are thereby achieved.

An instructive example in modern times, of the social-life cycle of self-determined collectives, might be the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. Phase A of Figure 1 would then encompass the pre-revolution beginnings of Communism, the revolution itself, and the events immediately following. Phase B then might be the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, in which case phase C represents the increasingly liberal post-Stalin period directly preceding its breakup in the 1980’s. Phase D then represents the final days of the Soviet Union ending in its breakup into independent states at transition point I. In which case Russia and the other previously Soviet states, now enduring winter’s alienation at point I, may move forward toward a new spring of faith (hopefully) through a democratic form of government.

Another quite different and disturbing example of the social-life cycle in Figure 1 might be the rise and (projected) fall of Western civilization. It would appear, in this quasi-Newtonian account of self-determined collectives, that all such societies are organic and fundamentally alive—in that each has a birth and time of youth (phase A), a period of maturation and self-fulfillment (phase B), old age and infirmity (phase C), and ultimately death (phase D). The Soviet empire apparently completed its cycle in relatively short order—about one hundred years. Where is Western civilization generally in this cycle? Is our modern age now located somewhere in the vicinity of the ego shown in Figure 1, and rapidly approaching the zenith of societal skepticism and alienation as characterized by today’s postmodern and multicultural perspectives, which at the same time will be the nadir of our founding faith and solidarity?


This paper introduces physico-social concepts founded on a Newtonian-based deconstruction of classical sociology. August Comte’s view of sociological theory was that it had to be an empirically grounded extension of the laws of nature discovered by the physical sciences (pp. 23-4). So that ‘it is the task of sociologists to uncover the laws governing the social universe, in much the same way as Newton had formulated the law of gravity’. In addition, sociologists must ‘reduce the number of theoretical principles by seeking only the most abstract and only those that pertain to understanding fundamental properties of the social world’, which principles must be tested against the empirical facts.

There is one principle that Comte did not elaborate, but which nevertheless is Comtean in spirit and he likely would have embraced had he known of it—the correspondence principle of quantum physics. This principle holds that ‘the laws of quantum mechanics, which work very well describing small-scale systems (so-called microscopic systems) must become indistinguishable from the laws of classical mechanics when applied on a large enough scale’ (Gribbin, 1998: 90). According to this principle the ‘expectation values’ of observables in quantum mechanics, which are key to theory development since quantum phenomena are fundamentally probabilistic, behave the same way as the observables themselves in classical mechanics.

An equivalent ‘Comtean’ principle for sociological theory might be that the dynamics of social systems, in the limit as system complexity and uncertainty are reduced to those of physical systems, merge with and become indistinguishable from the dynamics of physical systems. The theory arising from this principle thus will be a ‘physico-social theory’ that is derived from the physical-to-social transposition of physical law. The justification for such a view arises out of the blindingly obvious fact that the rationalized social causation of persons never proceeds without concomitant physical causes and effects. This Comtean-inspired correspondence principle strongly suggests that the social and the physical, ultimately when a sufficient level of abstraction has been achieved in social theory development, will be seen as simply different aspects of the same reality. A further aspect of this Comtean-inspired principle is that the ‘expectation values’ of observables in social systems, since these systems are probabilistic as well, will behave in the same way as the corresponding deterministic observables of classical physics.

Modern sociology seems to have evolved generally downwards toward the detailed analyses and theories of microsociology, rather than upwards in the classical tradition toward the hoped for grand-unifying theories of macrosociology. However, the suggested Comtean correspondence principle may provide a way in which sociological ‘grand theories’ can be pursued once more. The thesis underlying this approach is that a physical-to-social transposition of physical principles can produce a corresponding social-to-physical reduction of social phenomena. The Comtean correspondence principle proposed is simply that the rationalized causation of social actors and systems ultimately, in the limit as system complexity and uncertainty are reduced to that of physical systems, merges with and becomes indistinguishable from the seemingly nonrational causation of physical systems.

August Comte first raised the issue of whether sociology can be like the natural sciences (Turner, et al., 1998: 33). And it is arguably this issue, more than any other, that is still being debated at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The Comtean-inspired, sociological correspondence principle posited here, however, in its application to Newtonian-based physico-social ‘laws of motion’, provides a new and perhaps more informed perspective from which to view this foundational issue of the social sciences. And the results obtained thereby, which are probabilistic social analogs of—and Weberian ideal-types for—basic Newtonian concepts and principles, support the Comtean view that sociology ultimately can be like the natural sciences. For the sociologies and/or psychologies of Weber, Garfinkle, Freud, Parsons, and Pareto indeed are unified in certain basic respects through social analogs for Newtonian mass, velocity, momentum, and force. The quasi-Newtonian forces of this unification, however, are the subjective forces of sentient agents, which are immanent, non-spatial forces directed toward the same ‘self’ or body politic in which they arise. There are no externally impressed forces anywhere.

The physico-social forces of this essay are considered further in a paper (Zaman 2001b) on psychology and physics. The physico-social forces of the present paper are presented there from a psycho-physical perspective using the idea of quantum consciousness. It is suggested that the quantum fluctuations of the microworld, if such constitute an elementary consciousness in nature, will propagate upwards into the macroworld as localized forces of consciousness through the Ehrenfest theorem of quantum mechanics. Newton’s laws of motion then define localized forces of consciousness that are psychogenic rather than mechanistic. This provides a conceptual foundation in the world of quantum mechanics for the classical physico-social forces addressed here.


I am indebted to Peter Gibbs and Don and Doran Baker for helpful discussions on physical causality. I am also grateful to Val Lofgreen, Lloyd Allred, Warren Kraft, and Charles McPhee for their interest and support. I am especially grateful to Gary Kelly for his encouragement and unfailing support.


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