Re: The Real Place of Fuzziness in Anthropology

Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax (
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 15:47:09 -0800

This is meant to clear up a few honest misunderstandings of where the two
of us stand.

Len Piotrowski wrote:
> In article <> Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax <> writes:
> >[SNIP]

[Just a note, but the Wonder from Washington wrote this next line]

> >> However, the human organism is anything *but* a
> >> chaotic system, scientifically speaking.
> >>
> >Au contraire, it IS a chaotic system, otherwise every one of us would
> >be exactly alike. Ever heard of genotypes and phenotypes? This is
> >a term we use in anthropology to discuss the difference between what
> >is in your DNA versus what gets actually expressed in your biological
> >makeup as you go through life.
> [SNIP]
> I don't want to get in the middle of this particular flame war, in fact, I
> haven't the gumption to finish reading this entire text. But I would make one
> comment with regard to the above statements. Selection processes, whether they
> are of DNA or socio-cultural features, are not universally considered
> "chaotic" in the sense they have no underlying structure except perhaps random
> statistical chance. All choices are not equally weighted and probable in all systems for
> reasons that defy "chaos," especially with regard to human sociol-cultural
> systems. Purposeful choice is a problem for "chaos" thoery.

But selection is not what we are talking about. What happens /after/ selection.
Genotype is what shows up in the DNA. Phenotype is the actual expression.

Suppose we take two genetically identical rats, keeping one in the lab and
releasing one (with a chip implanted so we can find it again) into the
wild. In a year, we bring both the rats back to a central point and do
all the scientific measurements on them. What do we get? Two identical
rats? At the level of the genes, yes, but beyond that level, these same
building blocks have created some markedly different though similar animals.

To say that chaos theory means anything goes is quite wrong and a common
misunderstanding as the Wonder from Washington suggests. What it means
is that given the same building blocks, you can make slight changes in
the environment and see, sometimes big, differences. (Which is why
no one hopes to make a long-term weather forecast at this time.)

> Humans have a pool of words and meanings to choose from, but our sentences are
> not constructed helter-skelter in random orders and chaotic grammars, even
> though the domain of all possible sentence constructions, even only
> grammatically correct sentences, is infinite. If "chaos" theory is to make any
> contribution to human social studies it will have to come to grips with this
> and other examples of meaningful human action. In my opinion, until that time
> comes, it seems to me "chaos" theory is nothing more than a fad for the
> business management entrepreneurs rather than a serious social-psychological
> metaphor.

Never said that organization can't occur. But again, observe that we aren't
all saying the same thing at the same time. Poke me in the butt and you might
hear one set of words. Poke Eric Brunner (to pick on a friend) and you
will probably hear another set.

Make a clone of me and take it away. In a few years, bring us back together.
Will we be exactly alike? Hardly. Certainly you can find similarities, but
an honest assessment will also record differences. I am not my clone and
my clone is not me. Even standing back to back with me for its entire life
is going to produce differences.

That is what chaos theory teaches.

> Just my personal take on the subject.
> Cheers,
> --Lenny__

No problem. It was a more mature and honest reaction that those
coming from certain so-called professionals.




___ ___
/\ _|_ /\ Joel and Lynn GAzis-SAx
/ /\_|_/\ \
/ / /\|/\ \ \
\ \ \/|\/ / / "If we try to flee from our human condition into
\ \/_|_\/ / the computer, we only meet ourselves there."
\/__|__\/ William Barrett