Re: science of complexity

Harriet Whitehead (whitehea@WSUNIX.WSU.EDU)
Sat, 1 Apr 1995 09:17:54 -0800

Yes, indeed. I find it deeply ironical that just as one of the latest
turns in science, viz. complexity theory, is finally making it possible
to more realistically integrate scientific-mathmatical insight into the
social sciences, finally making it possible to scientifically 'recognize'
the historical factor or the phenomenon of emergence, - just at this
point, the post-modernist wave has branded all of science "positivism"
and declared it passee. Yes, dodoes (sp?) live!

Harriet Whitehead
Anthropology, WSU

On Sat, 1 Apr 1995, John Mcreery wrote:

> Again I trace an argument from memory, but what I remember goes
> like this: The evolution of modern science involved
> (1) the experimental method--in which the isolates the essential
> factors unders consideration, attempting in this way to eliminate
> extraneous influences on the relationship being studied.
> (2) the representation of essential factors in mathematical terms--
> which while it has the effect of precision also has a by-product a
> prejudice in favor of factors easily represented using available
> mathematics (geometry and calculus in the case of classical
> physics).
> These steps lead to
> (3) a bifurcation of the world into things which can be
> experimentally isolated and represented mathematically and a
> residue (in fact the bulk of commonsense experience) which resists
> isolation and/or mathematical representation.
> It is then a short leap to asserting
> (4) that experimental, mathematical science defines the domain of
> Truth--everything else being, at best, mere opinion, and
> (5) that research is properly ranked by how closely it approximates
> the experimental-mathematical model. Thus, for example, while
> neither economics nor anthropology conduct real experiments (the
> subjects of both being too entangled in the world for experimental
> isolation), the former, by paying more attentionto relationships that
> lend themselves to mathematical representation is thus more
> scientific--a superior thing to do.
> Needless to say, these conclusions lead to great roarings and
> gnashings of teeth among those who feel their fields of study
> degraded by this scheme. Some, predictably rush to imitate their
> friends in high (and highly funded) places by adopting the guise
> (more rarely the reality) of science. Others attempt to turn the
> tables by arguing that the sciences have missed the really important
> stuff, aka art, emotion, spirit, morals, politics...add your favorite to
> the list.
> Tibor may be on to something when, a few sentences later, he also
> writes,
> "It seems to me, that much of the po mo wars can be traced to the
> urge to revenge among the mathematically abused."
> What is sad about all this is the sheer bloody-minded ignorance of
> folks who, stuck at the point I left the argument just now, are
> apparently unaware of work being done by philosophers of science
> and scientists themselves to expand the limits of the classical
> model and to understand the history of science as a human activity--
> I think immediately of Stephen Gould. Meanwhile, too, the
> mathematicians and their cousins in computing and cognitive
> science keep coming up with mathematical representations of things
> once thought to be unrepresentable. Don't claim to follow the math
> or be able to write the programs myself--but fractals, chaos, neural
> networks...there's so much going on that continuing to beat the dead
> horses of 19th century positivism is becoming downright quaint.
> I venture a prediction. Those folks at Columbia will have their 15
> minutes of fame (the Andy Warhol principle). Then they will be one
> with the dodoes. But then, so may we all. <g>
> Peace,
> John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)