wait, synthesis is _bad_?!?

Holly Swyers (nesn-info@CCE.ORG)
Tue, 30 Apr 1996 17:43:57 GMT

I've been trying to keep up with the work I'm paid to do and so have not been
following the debate about the "Great Synthesis" as closely as I want to, but
Matthew Joanis' (DeusExMachina) most recent comments seem a little odd to me.
Maybe I am misunderstanding what everyone means by synthesis, but I gather
it has to do with the notion of the various subdisciplines of anthropology
_cooperating_ and _collaborating_. Why is this a _bad_ thing?

Matthew Joanis says:
"You know maybe the problem is that many people these
days don't know anyhing about the philosophy of science or scientific
method or why they should know about it. A lot of this debate might
cease if many more did."

I respond:
I think this line of reasoning defeats your argument against some sort of
cross-sub-discipline sharing in anthropology. If we departmentalize
ourselves too much and work in isolation - of course we won't know about the
_philosophy_ of science - because knowing that there is a philosophy implies
an ability to rise above what you are _doing_ (science) to think about the
how you are _knowing_ (philosophy). This seems like a pretty concrete
interdisciplinary synthesis to me (I'm also shooting from the cuff here, so
if anyone with a firmer background in philosophy wants to help me here :)

I don't think anyone is saying that there is no value in specialization
(maybe I'm wrong). There are many single issues in the realm of academics
that would require a lifetime of reading just to find out everything that has
already been done and thought before, let alone to determine what needs to be
done and thought next. I do believe, however, that we need to keep the lines
of communication across disciplines open and active. Archaeologists are
essentially approaching the same questions as socio-cultural anthropologist,
but they are using a different means to do so. Ditto for linguists, medical
anthropologists, theatricalists, psychologists, geneticists, students of
literature, historians, philosophers, etc., etc., etc. If all of us work in
isolation, we could miss the forest for the trees - so to speak.

Now, if I could just get a firm handle on what we are asking and why it is
important, I'd be in good shape :)

Thanks for listening -
"...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
-William Shakespeare in _Hamlet_ II,ii,247-48