Re: Socially Suede Science

Mon, 24 Oct 1994 01:09:52 +0000

Sorry, Dave, taking this back to the list... for others to throw their 2c
on something other than the Rushton/racism thread.

>(In essence, this is the
>"science is only one way of knowing, no more valid than any other way of
>knowing" postmodernist argument.)

Hmm, I would say that it depends on what you want to know. Science is the
best way of knowing how old the Earth is, like you said. However, it's not
the best way of knowing (for example) whether or not you love your wife.
Science is one map, that covers a lot of territory... but not ALL of it.
But I would grant you it is one of the BEST maps we've come up with so
far... better than the religion map, IMHO. That doesn't rule out the
possibility that there might be a BETTER map some day -- an idea that goes
back to Frazier.

> But since you mention it, I 've always thought that the fact that
>"science" developed out of contributions from many different cultures
>argued that it was, in some ways, independent of culture.

Syncretic religions, and creole languages, which result from the collisions
of cultures, are not thereby outside culture.

>The many cases of
>simultaneous discovery of the same phenomena by independent workers in
>*very* different cultures and societies also argues for a certain amount of
>cultural independence.

War, to return to another thread, is found in many societies. It often
brings the same result in each case -- the death of many persons. This does
not argue for the cultural independence of war ('primitive' or not.)

> The scientific method is a way for filtering out biases---I haven't
>heard a refutation of that! Now, obviously, it doesn't always succeed 100%,
>but that's the explicit aim of the method nonetheless.

You missed my subtle point -- the reflexivity factor. Perhaps ignoring
ones' biases... or believing one CAN and SHOULD transcend ones' biases...
is a bias in itself. So might be the belief that method is more important
than anything else -- what Jacques Ellul calls the "Illusion of Technique."

> I consider the term ethnoscience to be contradictory. Anyone
>anywhere can do science.

I don't disagree.

>(In fact, there is some interesting work
>suggesting that babies learn about the world in a "scientific" way: If I do
>this, what happens? Okay, if I do X while also doing Y, how does that
>change things?)

I don't consider that science. I consider that common sense. Causal
thinking is not unique to science. ABSTRACT, UNIVERSAL causal thinking is.

>If they're doing science, then call it science.

Yah, but see, people don't call it science. Tell me where you stand on
(ethno)sciences such as acupuncture and feng-shui, two of my favorite
examples from the Orient. People are willing to go so far as to at least
call them 'ways of knowing,' if not the more preferred 'nonsense.' I see
them as ethnosciences because 1) they assuredly *are* small 's' science but
2) don't seem to agree with big "S" Western Science as that term has come
to signify a certain set of practices and norms following the Enlightenment
and the "Scientific Revolution" in Europe. Plus, like I said, most "Big S"
scientists today say they aren't science but instead "superstition," or
somesuch, mainly because they posit entities (such as ch'i) which are
essentially nonmaterial (I prefer "subtle") or otherwise unknown to Western
And, for the hell of it, tell me where you stand on parapsychology,
just for my own curiosity.

>Where they
>are, who they are, and what types of structures they live in doesn't
>matter. But any finding that only pertains to your own ethnic group, or is
>only believed by your own ethnic group, is not ethnoscience, because it's
>not science.

Well, this is really the difference between emics and etics. There are few
groups who believe their (emic) knowledge is NOT universal. Almost every
culture has claimed at one point to be in possession of the omphalos, or
center of the world. From my point of view, it seems to be rather obvious
that many emic knowledge systems (the ethnobotanies of Amazon Indians)
contain much of etic value.

>(Unless the definition of "ethnoscience" makes no claim to
>have any real scientific component, c.f. political science.)

Was that a dig at Poli Sci people? Hey, I think they have as much right of
reply as the physicists (even if I agree.)

> One of the beauties of science is not denying one's "cultural
>rootedness," but discovering things that apply across all cultures! To take
>but one small example, look at who won the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics:
>Feynman, Tomonaga, and Schwinger. They won for their roughly simultaneous
>and totally independent "solving" of quantum electrodynamics. All three
>came from very different cultures, especially Tomonaga. He was Japanese,
>and did his work in Japan during the very difficult times of WWII and
>shortly thereafter. Even though both American, James Gleick contends that
>Schwinger and Feynman came from *very* different cultures (_Genius_, 1992).
>This is perhaps not the best example, but A) it's physics, and B) it came
>to mind.

I have no doubt that physicists can work cross-culturally. Indeed, they
often do. But one of the complaints I have heard from many physicists is
that, in fact, European and Japanese physicists often DON'T do physics the
same way that American physicists do. But then, American anthropology and
European anthropology have followed different trajectories also, and I dare
adduce that "culture" does have a bit to do with that.
There's no doubt that one can produce etic knowledge that is valid
across all cultures. Science is not the only system for doing this.

> Yes, but if the uranium atom were a little different, or the
>relationship between matter and energy different, then NOBODY could make an
>atomic bomb, no matter what culture they were from. Even if we were
>sixteen-handed supergeniuses with brain sizes ten times Rushton's. This is
>what lead one of the physicists who worked on the bomb to comment, "You
>might as well blame God---He made the uranium atom." (I don't have the
>source for that handy, and I don't quite agree with it 100%).

There are physicists who have a different view of scientific law than this.
Some are convinced that WE are in part responsible for some of the physical
constants in the universe (cf. the Anthropic Cosmological Principle.)
Others think that some of these constants may change over time (cf.
literature on the declining gravitational constant) or that some may be
nonlocal (cf. regions around black holes.) Tomorrow, or out in space, it
may not be as easy to build an atom bomb.
This has nothing to do with culture, but it only reinforces one of my
(perhaps culturally biased) musings about the world - that Heraclitus may
have been right in adducing that change is the only constant.

> BTW, we're not hairless, and we're hominids.

Thank you. Actually we're less-hairs, I guess. That sounds better.


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