Re: ANTHRO-L Digest - 2 May 1995 to 3 May 1995

Alexandre Enkerli (Alexandre.Enkerli@IMM.UNIL.CH)
Sat, 6 May 1995 22:54:18 +0200

>Enkerli has provided a very nice discussion of the kind of role that
>mathematics can play in anthropology.
Thanks! Well, I'm not used to be called Enkerli but I can live with it.

[quotation from my original posting deleted]
Read replies:
>If we look at a discipline such as physics, mathematics has gone from methods
>used to model reality to being the means to express reality. That is,
>mathematics has gone from being an auxiliary to theorizing to being the means
>by which theorizing takes place through mathematics in certain areas being
>the only means to represent reality.
Exactly! It can be seen as a way of putting reality in more abstract terms.
Equations have grown from being a practical tool to understand physical or
chemical processes to a general conception of reality. As my physicist
collegue has told me, some physicists are even using equations to prove the
existence of God!

>Enkerli draws our attention, as have others,
(I didn't try to be original, I just thought it was something to point out
in the discussion)

> to the potential role that
>mathematics can play in how we think and theorize about reality.
>Levi-Strauss recognized this role in his structural framework and refers to
>the needed integration of mathematical thinking.
Yes, but this kind of mathematical method is a lot more flexible than
mathematical equations applied to physical processes, IMVHAWISHIMVVVHO.

>This second role that
>Enkerli discusses is not, in my experience, a very well understood idea.
Because it can be much more complicated to use accurately...

>my experience, to most people mathematics means numbers and possibly methods
Exactly. As if we were seeking for a numerological expression of reality.

>(as Enkerli discusses in the first part of his memo). But this has little to
>do with what mathematics is about.
Yes, but broad definition of maths are not widely used. People prefer to
view maths as a "simple discipline" involved with numbers so as to use it
as a fixed method. Like a recipe or an instruction manual. "Calculate the
proportion of people aged 25 or older who would not smoke if physicians
were to prove it gave cancer to non-smokers, then add some salt and wait
for the results".

> Mathematics is, foremost, a discipline
>involved with reasoning and drawing out the logical consequences of a
>hypothetical situation.
And it's in this sense that it can be used as a way of organizing abstract
reasoning. Algebra as been really helpful in that sense and graphical
family trees (with a circle to symbolize a woman, lines to symbolize links,
etc.) can be seen in this way...

>To put it in more anthropological terms, if the
>local "universe" defined by such and such groups' cultural constructs frames
>for them how they are to understand, react to and act as individuals, what
>are the implications that can be derived with regard to the logic of those
>concepts? Here the logic refers not to behavior, per se, but to the logic of
>the cultural universe that has been constructed.
And this can lead us to ethno-science which, without being totally
abandonned, doesn't seem to be very widely studied these days.

>The Tiwi, for example (to
>use an example from a course I teach on Hunters and Gatherers) have a very
>complex (from our perspective) system of marriage, social groupings and the
>like that begin to make sense when we consider the logic of their concepts
>and how constructs in one area (e.g., division simultaneously into
>patrilineally defined moities and matrilineally defined moities) seem to
>arise out of the logic of another area (their kinship terminology).
Yes. Complex systems are easier to schematize in mathematical terms. We owe
a lot to "hard" sciences in that sense.

>As important as the role of mathematics as providing method may be, it is in
>this second role that mathematics can play a far more significant, and far
>more consequential role in our attempts to make sense of what we are about as
>a species.
Yes and this also means that we should maths in the proper way...

>From: Thomas Love <tlove@CALVIN.LINFIELD.EDU>
>Subject: "Paris of the..."
>One of the many little projects I've always wanted to get to - with all my
>spare time :) - is to draw up a list of the places that call themselves
>(or perhaps also including places so called by outsiders) "The Paris of
>the...". For example, Buenos Aires is often called the Paris of South
>America. I understand Noumea, New Caledonia, is called "The Paris of
>Melanesia" or something like that.
>I'd be interested in people's responses, which I'll collect and post
>later if this seems at all interesting. Of course the question is what
>makes them Paris-like - a history of contact with French
>colonials/colonialism? an architecture and/or urban design like those
>of Paris?
We might even talk of Montreal as the Paris of North America for both
historical and cultural reasons. Paris seems to be a very important symbol
for American intellectuals. It has an aura of a being very much
"Culture-oriented". This refers to a very interesting ideology about
Parisian "lifestyle", IMVHAWISHIMVVVHO.

Alexandre Enkerli (Unil-LAIP Lausanne)
"Quand t'es ne sur du beton, tu sais pas les noms d'oiseaux. J'les connais
pas par leurs noms, j'vais m'asseoir sans dire un mot".