Re: Patriarchy: Re: What Matriarchy?

Susan (
15 Aug 1996 17:53:29 GMT

In case you're not bored with this thread yest... (Bryant) wrote:
>In article <4unnk9$>, Susan <> wrote:

>>scientific worldview), the point which was made earlier is that the
>>questions themselves are still posed in a cultural framework.
>I certainly have no problem with that notion. My only rant was that the
>cultural framework does not inevitably bias the content of the theory.

I suppose I would say that it does, inevitably. "Bias" here means that
it presupposes certain kinds of conclusions, not that it means that the
conclusions are flawed. I would also say that there is an issue of
relevance, which is one of the things I have found bothers some people
who do not accept the scientific worldview. If I want to now why I love
my husband, there are any number of answers. One could say that there
are certain qualitites about him that I find amenable, based on my
particular personality etc. While I personally don't believe it, I
could also say that we were somehow destined to meet. One could also
answer in a "scientific" framework-- there is a stimulation of certain
areas of the brain, which releases hormones, which produces certain
chemical reactions which I interpret as emotional responses, etc.

Now, which one of those answers is "true?" Depends on the context of the
question! Each answer is biased towards a particular set of assumptions
about the question being asked. Now, most scientists I know wouldn't
have a problem with this particular idea. But many others, also of my
acquaintance, would insist that the third is the "true" answer,
particularly if it were posed outside of the issue of something touchy
-feely like love, for example gravity or DNA structure. It's the latter
kind of scientists that I suspect cause much of the friction between the
various communities interested in this whole issue.

>I think that one difficulty in discussions like this is that scientists
>tend to view "science" as a method for learning about various measurable
>things, and many social scientists and humanities folks and others view
>"science" as a body of theories. Neither view is downright wrong, but they
>lead to different conclusions about the role of science in society.

True enough. And I also believe that many scientists find comfort in the
scientific approach, which is analogous to the kind of comfort
others find in believing in space beings or ghosts. The difference is
why they find it comforting-- I suspect for scientists, it is because it
is controllable, in that there is nothing that ultimately can't be known,
it is based on things which can be "proven" rather than being based on
faith, and has led to what many people would consider good things in our
society. But it almost seems built into the scientific worldview
that it is not about worldview at all, it is about testable facts
which are independent of individual experience. A bit of a
tautology, actually. Most scientists I know don't generally think
about the fact that science itself of based on assumptions, instead
focussing on its conclusions which are in a whole different realm. When
pushed, they readily admit that this is so, but they are uncomfortable
about it, and generally seem to want to dismiss it as unimportant. But
to social scientists, it is very important, hence the tension.

>(Incidentally, few scientists indeed talk in terms of "proven" or not
>proven. There are varying degrees of confidence in a hypothesis or
>theory, depending in large part on how many different directions it's
>been attacked from and 'survived.' You surrender the surity of religious
>Truth at the lab door.

Yes, well, I would differ with you on that point. I think that this is
the "party line" (sorry, I have been inundated with the Republican
convention of late!), and that most scientists believe it in theory. But
in actual practice and everyday conversation, they frequently talk as
though most of current scientific knowledge _is_ in fact proven. For
example, how often do scientists say "our best evidence suggests that the
structure of DNA..." as opposed to "we now know that the structure of
DNA..." The latter implies certainty, and I suspect an underlying belief
by most individuals that what we "now know" is in fact true in the
literal sense. It would be interesting to see, 100 years from now, what
things we believe we know to be true that have turned out to be totally

>But most scientists recognize their assumptions (many disciplines, in
>fact, require them to explicitely delineate novel assumptions in their
>papers). That's why I offered a few of my assumptions and my
>standards of evidence to Gale earlier, and felt so frustraited that he
>refused to reciprocate. (Without a standard of evidence, my
>science-trained brain tells me, how can we evaluate which perspective is
>more useful?)

Not wanting to get between you and Gale (I am often motivated by pure
self-interest!), or wanting to interpret Gale's motivations and
assumptions, I would say that "standards of evidence" are of course part
of the scientific worldview. As you imply, you are aware that you are
operating in a scientific mode, and thus evidence becomes important. But
for one thing, evidence is not necessarily always pertinent in other
world views. And for another, "evidence" often comes in the form of
individual experience, which is very frustrating for scientists. I am
always struck by the number of people who believe they have evidence of
ESP-- usually meaning either that they have heard there are experiments
which corroborate it, or that they have had experiences which they can
only interpret in an ESP framework. I have occasionally tried to point
out some of the problems with this kind of "evidence." But it is
sometimes unsuccessful precisely because they believe they re operating
at least quai-scientifically. Catch-22 lives!

>Myth can offer insight into emotional experience and cultural outlook, of
>course. But are myths as powerfully predictive as theories?

Depends on the context of the question (am I getting repetitive?). There
is growing evidence that the roles of egg and sperm in conception are
somewhat different than the mythic roles they are often given-- that
rather than being active and energetic (terms like "arrows" or "bullets",
etc are often used), sperm are actually fairly poor swimmers, and
wouldn't get far without help from currents produced in the vagina. And
the egg, rather than sitting and passively waiting to be penetrated, in
fact undergoes chemical changes that both entice and then facilitate the
sperm to enter and produce conception. But the idea of active sperm and
passive egg reflect ideas the dominant culture has about the larger
gender roles of men and women. It's really a myth about male and female
roles, in some ways. The theory of conception predicts that egg and
sperm will unite, but there are mythic overtones in the language that
seem to indicate more than simple prediction.

>All I claimed was that *if* you accept that predictive value is
>an indicator of how well a system of ideas approximates reality,
>scienctific ideas better approximate reality than, for example, a literal
>interpretation of Genesis.

Agreed in part. But much of the theory in science is not really about
prediction, but about explanation, and that's where the two become
different ways of explaining the same thing. And I would argue that even
scientific explanations have certain implications for society, so they
aren't entirely neutral. I often read both the Genesis version and the
evolutionary version of the development of humans in class, so we can
talk about the differences between them. Both make certain statements
about the meaning of this process-- the evolutionary version having to do
with random processes, environmental factors, the ultimate kinship of all
life, and an ecosystem-centered world, while the Genesis version is
directed by a single individual, with implications of hierarchy and the
fundamental separateness of various categories of life.

>>got a headache yet?)
>:) Nope. 'Appreciate the patient clarifications, actually.

Okay-dokey! Let me know when you get bored and want to start a new
subject-- I'm having a slow summer (not by my choosing, I might add), so
I can go on about this stuff all day!

>It may be that the profs in my dept. saw to it that texts used for
>intro biology cover issues of sexism in academia. I dunno. We do, in my
>opinion, have a better than average department. :)

Do thank them for me! It's nice to know that there are some people out
there who pay attention to this sort of stuff, and don't just
automatically dismiss it as a feminist whine!

>:) Speculation can give rise to testable hypotheses, as you show. >'Also clears cobwebs when done out loud, sometimes. Besides, =
life >sciences are less clearly "experimental" than chemistry or physics.

Too true. I was referring to people who believe that they have had
certain experiences, and then assume that it is valid to generalize from
them to everyone else. Epidemiology is particualrly beset with
this problem. Without controlled study (experimental or otherwise), 50
peoples' anecdotal evidence is just that. As is "the textbooks I've seen
versus the textbooks you've seen"!

> The >dominant scientific paradigm around these parts (biology depts) is the
>hypothetico-deductive method.


Ah, memories of grad school...we tried that in anthropology, or at least
archaeology did. I had a French archaeologist teaching me theory, and it
came out more like "eepotetico-deeduookteev" Took us awhile to untangle
what the hell he was saying. Anyway, archaeology has to some extent
retreated from a strict h-d approach, though I still consider it crucial
to spell out precisely what you are trying to prove with your research,
even if it isn't strictly an hypothesis. Tricky things, humans. Even if
we could experiment, the answers we got might still not be predictive.
There are just too many variables to control for. Still, it does provide
a challenge!




"Some mornings, it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps."
-- Emo Phillips