Re: The "Great Synthesis"

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Sat, 27 Apr 1996 12:16:25 -0400

OK, I'll bite on this thread. What is the "Great Synthesis" you all are
talking about? Tell me where it is published so I can read about it. I
hope it isn't some paper that has finally discovered that brains have
something to do with behavior, and that "culture" has something to do
with how brains operate, and that the two are interdependent in many
ways...yawn... or that Psychology has gotten as far as the "D's" and
discovered Darwin. What the hell, even I wrote a "synthesis" back in 1967
between the complexity of cultural behavior and neural complexity that
was so popular that it was rejected by the anthropological journals and
finally ended up in General Systems, volume 12, pages 3-19, I think . Now
there's a journal for you, who have any interest in synthesis...
Meanwhile, Columbia, Papa Boas' home for a h(w)olistic anthropology is in
the process of revitalization, and might even hire a linguist, maybe one
archaeologist, and no biological anthropologist out of maybe ten souls.
Real progress there. Great synthetic possibilities...
There is no great synthesis. Only a growing awareness that the less
holistic we become, the greater the likelihood of never achieving the GS.
It's not synthesis that's happening, but more and more fragmentation,
more and more biological anthropologists climbing the goddamn walls in
soc/cultural departments where almost anything goes, and trying
to secure niches elsewhere. Ditto archaeologists and linguists. Synthesis my
touckas (sp?).
You want a synthesis? Then start from the position that we are simply
another species of animal, like a chimp, dog, aarvaark, zebra, whatever,
and that we differ from all of the others by a simply preposterous
adaptation, cultural behavior, that allows us to categorize and classify
the world according to whatever arbitrary symbol-mediated schemes we can
think up and IMPOSE upon ourselves and others. The only thing that makes
it all liveable is our basically unquenchable curiosity about IT ALL. Who
knows, maybe "intelligence" has (had) something to do with human cultural
behavior. I've watched thread after thread on this list often with
fabulous discourse (as on most of the power thread) that seems almost
impossible to connect to experientially, in which these things have a
life of their own. This comes about because of our brains and how they
get programmed, and as far as I can tell, it seems to have only a little
bit to do with the size of that organ. Ignore this organ and there will
never be any GS, but to study it, you must note how it varies and how it
operates, and whether there are any causal links between the variability
in brains and behavior. And frankly, we are not up to it, thanks to the
racist past we've endured AND the dampening effects of political
correctness that makes it sinful to study variation. How many more times
during my lifetime am I going to have to see crap about Samuel Morton's
crania and Gould's depiction of his thumb? As far as I can tell, the
biggest threat to most of social "science" IS a GS...or, so I sometimes