Re: the mind of culture: tops-down or bottoms-up?
Thu, 11 Jul 1996 10:31:02 -0700

This paragraph seems to summarize the basic approach taken by White:

'We may view a cultural system as a series of three horizontal strata:
the technological layer on the bottom, the philosophical on the top, the
sociological stratum in between... The technological system is basic and
primary. Social systems are functions of technologies; and philosophies
express technological forces and reflect social systems. The
technological factor is therefore the determinant of a cultural system
as a whole. It determines the form of social systems, and technology and
society together determine the content and
orientation of philosophy' (€The Science of Culture: A Study of Man and
Civilization€ Leslie A. White 1949)

This is a prime example of the monistic approach to determinism which is
common to many modern quantitative models. Prior to modern computer
technologies, complex approaches to modeling were nearly impossible.
Attempts were made to define change in terms of a single cause or
independent variable (in this case technology). The result is a linear
model (the €billiard ball model€, where each part of the model effects
each other part in a linear manner). Also, note that this approach
requires that interpretation proceed from the part to the whole (ie
causes must be separated from effects, something which is difficult to
do in social sciences). Thus, determinism has not been very successful
in social sciences.

With the advent of modern computer technologies, it has become possible
to develop non-linear models. A chaotic model would increase the
explanatory and predictive value of deterministic models, while
eliminating the need to isolate cause from effect. (Chaos utilizes a
holistic interpretation which proceeds from the whole). Although, chaos
directly opposes the concept of long term predictions, a chaotic model
of culture would allow us to create accurate simulations for short-term

Although my own approach would differ significantly from White, her
concepts of layers could easily be modified to that of dimensions.
Eliminate the concept of a single independent variable and presto, we
have the beginnings of a non-linear model. Of course, in analyzing this
model, we would have to establish a whole new set of variables. (Most of
White€s writings focus on qualifying her divisions between causes and
effects. Thus, there is little else here which would be useful in a
chaotic model).

BTW€In researching White, I encountered the name of Julian Steward,
which then led me to the field of cultural ecology. I honestly thought
that I was alone in desiring to pursue this line of thought. Can anybody
recommend a good textbook on cultural ecology, and especially one which
might cover concepts of human behavioral ecology?