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Dr. Lynette Shaw, University of Michigan
Monday, September 24, 2018
5:15 pm – 6:15 pm, LH 14


Cognition, Culture, and Complexity:

Modeling the Emergence of Shared Social Realities from Individual Mental Representation

The cultures we belong to affect far more than just our practices and beliefs - they also fundamentally shape how we perceive the world, each other, and ourselves. Many rich theoretical traditions in the social sciences have long emphasized this "socially constructed" nature of our experience. To date, however, insights in this arena have resisted formal specification and modeling. In the first part of this talk, I will show how this historical barrier might be overcome by using complex systems research to theorize how the individual, automatic cognitive processes responsible for reflexive sense-making in situations (i.e. mental representation) will, in social contexts, lead to the emergence of shared social realities and collective cultural dynamics. In the second half of the talk, I will then go on to discuss how this perspective might be used to develop more analytically precise and empirically generative ways of getting at social construction processes in real-world contexts.


What's a bitcoin worth?

The first posted exchange rate for Bitcoin in 2009 was around $0.001 (USD) = 1 BTC. Just over eight years later, in mid-December 2017, it reached an inconceivable high of over $19,000 (USD) = 1 BTC, only to lose over 60% of its value in the following months. Along with this dramatic ride in its price has also come a new wave of attention from mainstream audiences asking a lot of questions - the two biggest of which being 'What is Bitcoin?' and 'Why is it worth anything?'

This talk will offer some answers to these questions. The first part will use a computational modeling approach to help clarify how it is that this "something out of nothing" quality can arise out of social valuation processes. The second part will then combine information from the documented history of Bitcoin's development, venture capital funding trends, and text scraped from thousands of news articles to explore the role different groups' definitions of Bitcoin have played in constituting its current level of value and what this might entail for cryptocurrency's future.


Lynette Shaw is a postdoctoral scholar in the Michigan Society of Fellows and an assistant professor in Complex Systems. One of her lines of work employs computational social science methods to study social constructions of value and money in the context of digital currencies such as Bitcoin. The second part of her research is devoted to theorizing and modeling the emergence of cultural dynamics from individual cognitive processing. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Washington in 2016.

Last Updated: 12/9/19