Re: The Real Place of Fuzziness in Anthropology

Len Piotrowski (
Wed, 14 Aug 1996 14:21:54 GMT

In article <> Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax <> writes:


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

Hope not between you and I. I understand your position completely. Know for a
fact, regardless of any intervening fuzzy events you may perceive, that I
know my own.

>[gratuitous snub snipped]]

>> >> 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.

You employ a rather narrow application of selection to DNA. I use a more
generally applicable use of the term to refer to choices among alternatives.

>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

Your chip has altered your initial conditions already!

> In a year, we bring both the rats back to a central point and do
>all the scientific measurements on them.

Each of your measurements have violated an absolute notion of comparability.

> What do we get? Two identical

They are still genetically identical. What's changed?

>At the level of the genes, yes, but beyond that level, these same
>building blocks have created some markedly different though similar animals.

Beyond that level you haven't a clue to what's going on.

>To say that chaos theory means anything goes is quite wrong and a common
>misunderstanding [gratuitous snub snipped].

If you're planning to employ it as an explanation for the above mental
experiment, you've as much as stated so, since you have no idea what
transpired over the year in which the rats were beyond your perception. To
ask of Chaos Theory to lead you to an understanding of the resultant
variations, and to conclude triumphantly the potential of Chaos Theory to
account for other variations, is just plain fool-hardy.

>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.)

I wouldn't know about your conclusions for long-term weather forecast except
to note that many factors are at work _systematically_ to influence an outcome
at any particular time and space. That doesn't lead me to the temple of Chaos
Theory. On the contrary, if should lead to an analysis and enumeration of
those systematically related factors in the processual development of weather.
The same systematic procedure is called for in the mental rat experiment. To
*a priori* define away important aspects of the developing system from
analysis will only divert attention from the process you wish to explain. I
wouldn't consider a theory to explain those unknown, and unanalysed aspects of
the process as worth it's own salt. But apparently you do. And so we differ.

>> 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.

Despite all this friendly butt pokin' (only in jest, Eric), despite the
infinite number of possibilities, and ways of organizing possibilities, we
still think we know what each other means when we say something. This
persistence of meaning despite the possibilities for infinite random
organization is unexplainable through Chaos Theory.

>Make a clone of me and take it away. In a few years, bring us back together.
>Will we be exactly alike? Hardly.

So what? You've learned nothing about those intervening years and there affect
on any perceived level of difference between you and the clone. What has Chaos
Theory taught you - that you and your clone will be different at some level
and perhaps not at others? Big deal! What would be truly interesting is to
discover the reasons for change, and the reasons for persistence!

>Certainly you can find similarities, but
>an honest assessment will also record differences.

Hard to find absolutes, and so we have the methods of classification, eh?

>I am not my clone and
>my clone is not me.

The conundrum of being and Being-in-the-world. I don't think Heidegger would
buy Chaos Theory as a resolution between them.

>Even standing back to back with me for its entire life
>is going to produce differences.

So what?

>That is what chaos theory teaches.

Some lesson. I'll pass on the advanced course, thanks.

>> Just my personal take on the subject.

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

Thanks for the magnanimous evaluation.