Eddie Lee, photo by by Doug Merriam

The behavior of social animals, from humans to pigtailed macaques, may look messy and unpredictable at first glance. In recent years, however, concepts from statistical physics have helped reveal surprising patterns and predictable regularity. Eddie Lee, a Program Postdoctoral Fellow working with SFI President David Krakauer and Professor Jessica Flack in the Collective Computation (C4) Group, builds on his background in physics to study social phenomena like the emergence of voting blocs on the U.S. Supreme Court, scenarios where the outcome of an decision comes down to a few pivotal votes, and the spread of armed conflict. 

Inspired by Professor Geoffrey West’s work in scaling laws, Lee and the C4 group analyzed data from various wars and violent upheavals across Africa over 20 years to study how armed conflict spreads. “The results were remarkable,” says Lee. “We were finding universal scaling patterns in the dynamics — the spatial structure, duration, and social statistics — of conflict. It’s surprising when you can take something as messy as armed conflict and find such regularity.” Now the group is working to build a model that captures those regularities. 

Lee has been part of the SFI network since spending a summer on campus as an REU while he was studying physics and biophysics at Princeton University. “One of the drivers through graduate school was coming to SFI,” he says. “I always returned to school with lots of ideas.” Lee holds an MSc and PhD in physics from Cornell.