Re: the mind of culture: tops-down or bottoms-up?
Thu, 11 Jul 1996 15:56:55 -0700

Len Piotrowski wrote:

>>This is a prime example of the monistic approach to determinism which is
>>common to many modern quantitative models.

> Leslie White's "model" is, in my analysis, neither quantitative nor monistic.
> Mind explaining this conclusion?

"The technological factor is therefore the determinant of a cultural
system as a whole". I might be off, but I think that this would be
considered monistic determinism, in that she seeks to identify a single
determining factor.

>>Attempts were made to define change in terms of a single cause or
>>independent variable (in this case technology).

> I think that's a vulgar view of White's model. The implication, literally at
> the root of White's pyramid model, is, in my opinion, a systems integration. I
> believe that is what the functional-adaptive-materialistic model intends.

You may be right. I've not even finished the first book. It is possible
that she develops the model more in latter books, but my initial
impression is more of a description of currents, where the lower current
is driving the middle and the middle is driving the top. Obviously there
is some sense of integration, but it is linear (see below).

>>The result is a linear model (the €billiard ball model€, where each part of the >>model effects each other part in a linear manner).

> Hardly what the functional materialists and functional ecologists have
> developed.

I am not speaking for the developments of functional materialists or
functional ecologists, only on my impressions of what I have read of
White so far. I still have much reading to do. Each layer of White's
model effects the layer above. There is no reverse influence (ie society
effecting technology, or philosophy effecting society) and there is no
interaction between non-associated layers (ie technology does not
directly influence philosophy, and philosophy does not influence
technology). This is a 'billiard ball model'.

>>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).

> I believe, in contrast, that the idea behind Leslie White's model
> is evolutionary, meaning selectionist rather than cause and effect.

I do not see where you are coming from. Evolution only deals with
changes in a dynamic system. This does not directly oppose the concepts
of cause and effect. White's arguments refer to technology as the
driving factor in this change; technology causes change (cause and
effect). Again, this may have changed later, as her ideas developed. I
don't really know.

>>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

> I would heartily disagree, unless of course you think human social-psychology
> is more-or-less the equivalent of your billiard balls, molecules, or other
> physical entities.

Simulations of human behavior in a crisis are already in use. For
example: architects are utilizing such simulations to design buildings
which allow for a smoother flow of people during an evacuation. These
simulations are based on models of human behavior. If human group
behavior can be modeled with the degree of accuracy which has been seen
so far, then why not culture?

>>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.

> How does multiple variables make it any more "non-linear?" Besides, I
> believe White's view of culture isn't dependent upon one dimension. An
> important distinction has to be made here in terms of culture and culture
> change. White's model related aspects of culture thought to be functionally
> and systematically integrated with the environment. That particular system of
> integration functionally influenced other aspects of culture. However, those
> sub-systems most intimately involved with the material aspects of life were
> the ones most influenced in their character by that involvement. Other aspects
> of culture were freer to vary and change without those constraints.

I do not know what other aspects of culture you refer to. White divides
culture, into three layers (most aspects of culture would fit clearly
into one of these three layers). Each layer is a function of the one
below (ie a, b=f(a), c=f(b)). I would have expected White's three layers
to be placed on top of an environmental layer, but White makes no
mention of environment. If environment were at the bottom layer, it
would have become the determining factor. White clearly places
technology as the determining factor. The application of environment to
this model must come later.

As for eliminating technology as a single independent variable, this was
not meant to imply that multiple variables would make the system more
non-linear. A chaotic model would not need to identify any variables
from the start.

> I would recommend reading something by Julian Steward to get a feel for what
> White actually intended with this model, especially the evolutionary
> implications for human culture, civilization, and technology.

I really do want to read some of Steward's works, but I cannot find
anything. Any recommendations? Actually, what I really want is a
textbook on cultural ecology, so I can get an overview of where the
field has gone.