News Release

Stability in physical and political science

Peer-Reviewed Publication

PNAS Nexus

In a Perspective, a biophysical chemist, Kenneth J. Breslauer, and his brother, a political scientist, George W. Breslauer, explore the parallelisms between the concept of stability as it is used in their respective fields. The workings of a cell or molecule are generally understood to be reducible to physics, but social and political events are thought to be structured by human agency and a generous helping of chance. However, both molecular systems and socio-political organizations can be said to exhibit stability, instability, or so-called “metastability,” a state of precarious and kinetic stability. For example, a chemical system can be metastable when molecules are kinetically trapped in a high energy state until outside influences perturb their equilibrium, while isolated social states such as East Germany can persist in a metastable state for decades until their boundaries are breached by outside influences. Ultimately, the authors propose that social systems can be conceptualized using the language of thermodynamics, in ways that reflect a greater than traditionally assumed continuity between nature and society. 

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