Continuity v. binary categories

carter pate (CPATE@UTCVM.UTC.EDU)
Sat, 28 Oct 1995 14:42:48 EDT

Too late for the original topics--but I'm catching up on my mail from about
three weeks back, and a minor reflection on how we think pops into mind.

A discussion on whether there is such a thing as "primate culture" is winding
down and a debate about similarities between religion and science is still

I'm wondering, why is it so important for some of us to draw all-or-none binary
distinctions between "thingies," when there might be a continuum, but one with
such a vast or distinctive range that we must identify points where what we
label one way drops off, and what we label another must begin. To borrow a phy
sical metaphor, don't we think of a single continuum of radiation, upon which
light, heat and electromagnetic frequencies may be distinguished? Why can't we
imagine a continuum of culture in which the abilities and practices of various
Species may exist completelty outside the range of variations of each other.
But wouldn't it all be culture? Shouldn't we be spending at least equal time
trying to clarify the whole continuum and discovering various active or
observable ranges along it, rather than debating whether what one species does

No one seems to have mentioned it, but the debate about similarities and
differences between science and religion does seem to recognize, as did
Malinowski, that Magic, Science and Religion have various dimensions, some
of which contrast two against the other, and that these "cutting points' of
similarity or difference do not all coincide. It seems some posters want to
pick one favorite dimension to prove an absolute sameness or an absolute

Did Levi-Strauss describe an iron cage of binary polarities which can not be
escaped? Or did he have a vocabulary which included as well as hot and cold,

Just wondering!
carte pate