Re: Third Culture:Reply to Tomaso

James R Davila (jrd4@ST-ANDREWS.AC.UK)
Mon, 4 Sep 1995 21:06:51 +0100

On Tue, 5 Sep 1995, John Mcreery wrote:

> "higher" education, they were able to get away with this. Now, while the
> humanities have plunged themselves into confusion and have little to say
> but "commentaries spiraling on commentaries" and no commentary more valuable
> than any other--because, after all, all voices are equal, a group of literate
> scientists has emerged who write directly for the educated lay public. They
> address what the great classical problems: the origins and nature of the
> universe, mind and humanity. Anthropologists could, and should, be among
> them, but more and more we tend to perversely narrow specialization and
> intramural squabbling. Our "critiques
> " are typically little more than invective, driven by a sense that we know
> appalling things, but have little to offer in the way of solutions. Like two
> year-olds on a playground, we are left with tantrums, screaming and moaning,
> "They (the big, bad oppressors) did it! Somebody should make them stop!"
> The claim is, alas, too often valid. But the serious intellectual and political
> work remains undone. Or, perhaps, others are doing it. And we, too absorbed
> in our bickering, have failed to notice.
> John McCreery


please don't dismiss the humanities quite so quickly. Not all of us are
writing "commentaries spiraling on commentaries" and many of us are
rather horrified at the ideological and nihilist trends in our fields.
Also, I've been on many humanities discussion groups and have never seen
anything like the level of irrational hostility often found on Anthro-L.
(Granted, this has come mainly from one source, but hardly exclusively!)

There is still plenty of useful traditional work being done in the
humanities, such as editions of texts, historical-critical analysis, and
philology. And the more modern methods, such as feminist studies and
deconstruction certainly have their place, although in my opinion their
value is grossly inflated in the current job market in the U.S.! There
are even some of us who use the social sciences in our humanities research
(and even subscribe to Anthro-L :-)).

This having been said, I fully agree that the scientists may be
undercutting the humanities and tackling even metaphysical and
theological questions. I do a lot of reading in physics, as well as
anthropology, and have already indicated how it has helped my
understanding of historical questions. I look forward to reading _The
Third Culture_. My favorite recent example of physics moving onto the
turf of the humanities is Frank Tipler's _The Physics of Immortality:
Modern Cosmology, and the Resurrection of the Dead_. Tipler is a
respected mathematical physicist at Tulane University who claims that a
proper projection of the principles of global general relativity to the
recollapse of the universe in the big crunch indicates that God will
emerge from intelligent life after it engulfs the universe and controls
its collapse in such a way that infinite energy, computing power, and
subjective time become available. Then Tipler describes a purely physical
process that God (the "Omega Point") can use to raise from the dead everyone
who ever lived. All that's required is sufficient computing power. Physics
meets theology! (This is not an endorsement, just a bibliographical note.)

Jim Davila
lecturer in early Jewish studies
University of St. Andrews