Continuing the discussion from The Role of Simulation in Science:
To give one example: a famous and groundbreaking agent-based simulation was Thomas Schelling’s (1971) model of “segregation.” The agents in his simulation were individuals who “lived” on a chessboard. The individuals were divided into two groups in the society (e.g. two different races, boys and girls, smokers and non-smokers, etc.) Each square on the board represented a house, with at most one person per house. An individual is happy if he/she has a certain percent of neighbors of his/her own group. Happy agents stay where they are, unhappy agents move to free locations. Schelling found that the board quickly evolved into a strongly segregated location pattern if the agents’ “happiness rules” were specified so that segregation was heavily favored. Surprisingly, however, he also found that initially integrated boards tipped into full segregation even if the agents’ happiness rules expressed only a mild preference for having neighbors of their own type.
Thomas Schelling is a Nobel Laureate, and he writes this paper in 1971, just three years after MLK was assassinated. This is really important work to understand. In our moment, it turns out you can run versions of his experiments online really easily. I really encourage everyone to take a look at this website here:
As they write:
This is a story of how harmless choices can make a harmful world.
And they have these key lessons, all demonstrated by simulation.
1. Small individual bias → Large collective bias.
When someone says a culture is shapist, they’re not saying the individuals in it are shapist. They’re not attacking you personally.
2. The past haunts the present.
Your bedroom floor doesn’t stop being dirty just coz you stopped dropping food all over the carpet. Creating equality is like staying clean: it takes work. And it’s always a work in progress.
3. Demand diversity near you.
If small biases created the mess we’re in, small anti-biases might fix it. Look around you. Your friends, your colleagues, that conference you’re attending. If you’re all triangles, you’re missing out on some amazing squares in your life - that’s unfair to everyone. Reach out, beyond your immediate neighbors.
In the end, we have to decide if we are content with segregation. Or will we allow discontent to grow, so that we might choose the integrated Kingdom of God.