Re: whatsa matter? you guys chicken?

Alex Duncan (
22 Jul 1995 19:07:02 GMT

In article <> Gerrit Hanenburg, writes:

>Yes,If people agree on the method, but somebody else (especially in another
>cultural context) may not at all agree with you on what constitutes a test or
>a "genuine" hypothesis or such a person may be part of a tradition in which
>things are not tested but believed on authority.(the gods or whatever).What
>seems to be in your eyes a reasonable test may not be so in the eyes of the
>medicineman of a Yanomamo tribe in the Amazon basin (he might even consider
>it immoral to investigate certain things in such a way).Yet these people are
>not backwards,they manage to survive in an environment in which people like
>you and me can hardly survive.They use a different kind of rationality,yet
>they may come to moreless the same results as we do (their blowpipes and
>poison arrows are as effective as our guns).This may seem an extreme example
>but it illustrates well what you might encounter.
>Why can't you convince creationists that man has evolved?The arguments in
>favor of that theory seem quite clear.(to us)

I often wonder if "nonrational" people actually use the scientific method
without a real awareness of what they're doing, and then generate another
explanation for their behavior that provides a better fit with their
culture. For example, the Yanomamo may have arrived at the arrow poison
they use after a great deal of trial and error (hypothesis: this frog
will provide an adequate arrow poison, test: does it kill the monkey? --
it seems a bit of a stretch to call this science, but hopefully you get
the point).

Within Yanomamo culture, it may be that "trial and error" is not an
acceptable means of figuring things out, or doesn't carry the legitimacy
of other methods. In such a case, perhaps a culturally acceptable
alternative explanation will be found: "the frog god came to me in a
dream and told me which frog would provide the best poison."

What I find disturbing about "alternative rationalities" is that they
don't necessarily reveal the truth. I recently saw a news segment that
showed a "trial" somewhere in the middle east. There were a series of
suspects for a crime. They were all subjected to having their tongues
burned by a hot iron. The "judge" examined their tongues afterwards to
determine guilt or innocence. While it's not beyond the realm of
possibility that this method may work (a suspect who is confident in his
innocence may secrete more saliva -- or less, whatever -- and thus not
recieve as severe a burning as a guilty man), I suggest that a "rational"
method is more likely to reveal the truth.

Alex Duncan
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712-1086