Re: science of complexity

Tibor Benke (benke@SFU.CA)
Thu, 13 Apr 1995 14:36:34 -0700

Hi Cameron,

I apologize for not replying sooner, but I was away from my account for a
while, and am just now catching up.

You wrote on April 3, quoting me:

TB> I think, what needs to be done is to have a serious anthropology
TB> programme aimed at the social role of mathematical and technical
TB> That is to say, if we are to address the problem of fragmentation in
TB> discipline, we need to have an understanding of why people with
TB> mathematical and technical skills treat people who are more verbaly or
TB> artisticaly oriented with such contempt and how this obstructs
TB> education at all levels.

CL>I am a native of the tribe of Mathematicians. Like
CL>others, we are people, all individuals, some taller,
CL>some shorter, some younger, some older. Perhaps you
CL>have met kinsmen of mine who act contemptuous; if so,
CL>I apologize on their behalf. For my part, I know few
CL>like this, but many who cherish human expressiveness--
CL>and perhaps more who value it, but understand it so
CL>poorly, that they seem cold or indifferent.

I am sorry if I overgeneralized. It is perfectly true that most sentences
which are of the form 'all x is/are/posess the attribute y', are false. No
doubt, there are many of your tribe that are guiltless. Also, I can
tolerate (forgive?) individuals who may be personaly contemptous on
account of whatever - they too must have their problems as I have mine.
But my concern has to do with the general breach that so many, (E.P.
Thompson , for one, Karl Mannheim, for another, and many more whom most
anyone but me could or should be able to list,) have noticed. The problem
is not with individual people, but with something systemic, which has to do
with our methods of social valuing and hiearchy formation. A more general
example of how a systemic problem occurs would be to look at how people
with various disabilities are treated. In comparison to the discrimination
and humiliation these later people suffer, the problems of the
mathematically challenged are almost trivial. Nevertheless, I have
frequently experienced the rage of powerlesness, because my concerns were
dismissed as a symptom rather then a problem.

CL>I summarize: there is much wisdom extant already on
CL>the lifeways of "people with mathematical ... skills",
CL>the failures of "mathematical education at all levels",
CL>and how different cognitive faculties co-occur. I am
CL>not aware of strong evidence for explanations in terms
CL>of subpopulations' contempt for each other. I find
CL>other approaches much more promising, but I welcome
CL>any data you might bring to bear on your proposition.

It is precisely because my suspicions are based on personal experience,
anecdotal evidence, and the perception of a socio-cultural conflict, that I
feel that focused anthropological research addressing this problem might be
of use. To phrase the question I have another way: why is the wisdom
already extant concerning the pedagogy of mathematics not formulated as a
pedagogical consensus and why are the actual results of the application of
that pedagogy what they are? Does the anthropology of knowledge, the
anthropology of education, of childhood development, or other branches of
applied anthropology have something to contribute here? It is one thing to
have a method and it is another to get educators in the field to apply it
properly and effectively; often times the essence of a method is lost
between its formulation and its implementation. (vide: cuisinaire rods or
new math).


>@> Tibor Benke / (^)%(#)
>@> Graduate Student (MA program)
>@> Department of Sociology and Anthropology
>@> Simon Fraser University,
>@> Burnaby, B.C., Canada. V5A 1S6