Quantum Social Science Bootcamp

The 2022 bootcamp will take place virtually July 11-15, 2022.

Welcome to our second annual “quantum bootcamp,” to be held virtually July 11-15, 2022. The goal is to introduce social scientists of all ages and backgrounds to the potential utility of quantum theory for their work.

The hypothesis, or wager, behind quantum social science is that the human mind and behavior are more like the indeterminate and entangled sub-atomic phenomena described by quantum physics than they are like the deterministic inanimate objects described by classical mechanics. Yet, a century after the quantum revolution, the classical mechanistic worldview remains deeply baked into the ontology and methodology of the social sciences. Consider that every time we reach for probability theory in our work, social scientists are almost certainly – and probably unconsciously – reaching for classical probability theory, not its quantum cousin.

Such classical thinking by default has come under growing pressure, however, from long-standing anomalies in human cognition and decision-making research, as well as seemingly intractable philosophical problems like the nature of consciousness. And now the doubts are intensifying with the emergence of a clear positive alternative, rooted in quantum assumptions about the mind and social world.

Vigorous interdisciplinary research programs on quantum cognition and decision-making, quantum game theory, quantum social theory, quantum semantics, quantum biology and other domains have arisen precisely because they show potential to resolve many of the problems generated by classical thinking. If it turns out that the human mind and behavior are better described using a quantum rather than classical framework, then the social sciences will need to be rebuilt on a quantum foundation. And quantum physics, which we normally think of as the ultimate physical science, would turn out to be a human science as well.

However, because few social scientists have ever considered quantum theory before, very few currently have the conceptual and/or mathematical skills to take advantage of it (pro or con). Nor are many potential quantum social scientists washing up on the shores of graduate programs, since almost no one studies quantum theory in college excepts physics majors.

The Mershon Center’s Quantum Bootcamp, which has been made possible by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, is a response to this lack of supply of quantum expertise in the social sciences. Not that we can do much more than stir the pot in a week.  But what we can do, by bringing together experts with capacities across different forms of quantum social science, is give students with little or no background a sense of why a quantum social science might be needed, and what its basic elements would be. From there, and as members of a growing interdisciplinary community of scholars like those represented at the bootcamp, participants should be able to begin further study on their own.

The first bootcamp was held online in 2021 and proved to be a great success, with over 250 participants from all over the world. The bootcamp consisted of 10 formal morning talks by eminent scholars addressing the idea of a quantum social science from their various perspectives, followed by informal discussion in the afternoons. The attendees were remarkable not only in their intellectual diversity, hailing from over 30 disciplines, but also generationally. While over half were graduate students and post-docs, all cohorts from high school to full professors were well-represented. And judging from the palpable enthusiasm during the sessions and post-camp reviews, almost everyone it seemed had a good time.

That positive experience made it easier to decide to hold our second bootcamp online as well, though now with additional programming.  The successful morning format will remain the same, with new speakers but again two talks per day under a theme.  In the afternoons, however, in addition to informal discussion, we will be offering three more structured programs, meeting at different times so that people can sign up for all three if they wish.  Here is what we have planned:


User-Friendly Mathematical Tutorial for QSS

This year we will offer a four-day tutorial introducing the mathematics of quantum theory to a non-technical audience. We will try our best to cover various key features of quantum mechanics, such as superposition, entanglement, eigenvalues and eigenvectors, collapse of the wavefunction, while relying on the least amount of math as possible. Technical ingredients, such as complex numbers and vector spaces will be introduced and explained as necessary, and the informal nature of the event will encourage participants to ask their questions as they arise. No previous knowledge of quantum theory or higher algebra is necessary to join the tutorial.

The tutorial will take place on four afternoons (Mon, Tue, Thu and Fri) and we aim to also cover more special topics in the second half of the week, such as quantum games and quantum cognition. Whenever possible, we will try to have explain the concepts interactively by engaging in online exercises. Participation at the tutorial is free but participants will be asked to fill out an online “test” before and after the tutorial to assess their progress.


Transforming inter-personal conflict: What can quantum theory teach us?Ran Kuttner (University of Haifa)

In recent decades, within the emerging discipline of negotiation and conflict management, attempts have been made to develop models that will improve interpersonal engagement.  A central debate stems from different prisms on human interaction that serve as a starting point: an individualistic orientation and a relational orientation. These foundationally different mindsets produce seemingly irreconcilable understandings and diverse approaches to conflict transformation; yet, both are necessary and have their place. With the help of quantum theory and its ground-breaking approach towards the wave/particle duality, this workshop invites an integrative approach that transforms the either/or debate between the individualistic and relational approaches to human interaction into one of both/and.

Alongside introductions to current negotiation and mediation literatures, the workshop will introduce quantum physicist David Bohm’s work on “dialogue” alongside that of Martin Buber, Charles Taylor and others. It will also elicit insights from Buddhist philosophy and psychology and from scholarship developed in recent years on building partnerships among diverse groups (written in the context of efforts made among Jews & Arabs in Israel).


Manuscript Workshop for QSS

In addition to providing a unique and generative intellectual experience for our participants, through the quantum bootcamp we also hope to have two more lasting effects:  contributing to a trans-disciplinary network of quantum social scientists; and nurturing the development of ideas and papers into published articles.

To both ends, we are considering holding an intensive, one day-long workshop for at most 15-20 people on July 18, the Monday after the bootcamp, where participants can share works-in-progress with each other and team leaders for constructive feedback. Everyone in the manuscript workshop would be expected to bring at least a five-page memo to the discussion, but full drafts of papers would also be welcome. Given the variation in technical skills in our community, we would likely divide the workshop into two groups, one more qualitative and one quantitative.

Please register for the afternoon programs when you register for the bootcamp. Click the “register” tab to sign up!