Re: science of complexity

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Mon, 3 Apr 1995 11:24:57 JST

Rob Quinlan writes,

"Forgive my ignorance of the philosophy of science. But I think there
is more than just probabilistic science. What about natural science?
Doesn't "butter-fly catching" count? For me this is the central rub.
How do we evaluate descriptive/inductive methods?"

First, is there more than probabilistic science? In form, yes. Many
scientific models are constructed in terms of non-probabilistic
principles: F=MA, for example. This, however, is no guarantee that the
principles in question are Truth with a capital T. As my own favorite
metaphor--the asymptote--indicates science, to my way of thinking, gets
closer and closer to the big T. It will, in fact, never get there. Thus, the
central question for me is evaluating which of several competing ideas
seems closer to the mark. In areas that lend themselves to classical
forms of experiment and mathematical representation, the rules are
well-defined. Statistics approximate these rules for questions that lend
themselves to quantification and sampling. Then we come to your next
question: "How do we evaluate descriptive/ inductive methods? For me,
too, this is the rub.

In my own research, I tend to assume that are more powerful

(1) the greater the amount of detail they account for, and

(2) when they account for sequence as well as occurence.

For an illustration of what I mean, you might have a look at an article
called "Negotiating with Demons" that I just had published in
_American Ethnologist_.

John McCreery