Re: The Real Place of Fuzziness in Anthropology

Joel and Lynn Gazis-Sax (
Wed, 14 Aug 1996 14:06:13 -0800

Taking this out of alt.pagan.

Len Piotrowski wrote:

> >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.
> Your chip has altered your initial conditions already!

Eeeep! You're right. Well, we'll plant an identical chip in the one in the lab,

> > 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.

Not any more! I put a chip in the lab rat!

> > What do we get? Two identical
> >rats?
> They are still genetically identical. What's changed?

That's where the notion of phenotype comes into play, my friend.

Didn't they teach you about those?

> >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.

No, I would say that you haven't a clue if you don't understand what
I am getting at. You are looking only at the level of DNA and declaring
the rats identical. However, when we look at the sum total of the animals,
we will find differences in weight, body structure, and probably intelligence.
The outdoor rat will have developed patterns of behavior not shown by the
rat who stayed in the lab.

This is what is meant by /phenotype/.

> >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.

*rolls his eyes*

> >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.
>The mental rat experiment has been carried out, in real life. Don't
tell me that you've never seen stuff like this in your textbooks.

> >>
> >> 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!

Yes, but chaos theory poses a limit against making long-term predictions
about what will happen to those two clones. Each experiment you run /will/
be measurably different.

> >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.
>No but Wittgenstein might. In any case, can you find anyone in this world
who is willing to say that I and my clone are the same person? Only
in fantasies.

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

Genotype vs. phenotype. Look up the word phenotype. It will be a useful
addition to your vocabulary.

> >
> >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.
> Cheers,
> --Lenny__

I can't say that I am much impressed with your response. You still
don't get the point.

Here's another take on the argument, using examples which normal
people might be able to understand.

The main argument for classification is that it makes life easier
for the observer. By using a scientific system soundly based on
classification, we have a tool at our disposal which is /predictive
and useful/.

But by its very nature, there are going to be a fair number of cases
that come up which must be intellectually sheared down to fit in
the classifications. Or else, the classification system must be
changed to fit the new cases. Or else, as often happens, the
cases are dropped in a little "unexplainable" pile and ignored.
(Chaos theory got its start when some people tried to observe some
of the cases in the ignored pile.)

The map is not the territory as Korsinski (sp.) tells us. Having the hill
on the map is not the same as walking on it. And some maps are more useful
than others. Topographic maps were an improvement on earlier maps because
they simulated undulations on the earth's surface. But they were still
not the same as the earth's surface. Period. No amount of mental exercise
can make them so.

By their very nature, classificatory systems are both useful and misleading.
They are useful because they can help us to predict things that will happen
-- over a short term. Beyond a certain period, the accuracy of our predictions
will decrease. Beyond that certain period, scientists can be only marginally
better than psychics in predicting /precise/ events. And thus one of the
promises of classificatory systems is defeated by itself and that is the
promise that some day we will be able to predict anything. Beyond us will
always be that point where our ability to predict dramatically declines.
Perhaps we can push it out a little farther. But how far?

The struggle of science is always to make a better model of the universe. The
closer we can get to what is actually out there, the better. We live in
a seemingly orderly universe based on some chaotic arrangements at the heart
of things. Our building blocks, such as DNA, are themselves constructed on
chaotic systems. Yet in this chaos, things come together and we can perceive
flow and objects. They fit well enough together to produce a human mind. And
yet the order of the world is not such that the universe is nothing more than
a sugarcube castle. The oceans of the world are a far better analogy in that
they are always moving, churning, surging. And as for the creatures in the ocean,
where does the creature begin and the ocean end? With larger organisms, such
as sharks, the answer seems easy, but what about plankton -- those tiny
bodies in the sea which become the sea? Consider the possibility of less
certain boundaries and you will begin to see what I mean.

Again, let us return to the issue of race in anthropology. On what basis
is the classification made? Where do we stop identifying different races.
The system of classification demands exact factors be called into account,
but if we follow its logic and keep noting difference upon difference,
we will come up with over five billion races of one.

Where do you stop? Who decides?

Could there be a better model out there? Chaos theory might be the start
of that better model. Those of us with social science backgrounds have
seen our most cherished beliefs torn to pieces by a single fact. Understanding
human society is maddening. Our subjects talk back, they tell us when they
think we are wrong about them. This perspective puts a different light
on the ability of Science to know all.

Joel GAzis-SAx

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