Anthropology and Prediction

John Mcreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 9 Sep 1995 11:24:36 +0900

Broadly speaking, I am in full agreement with recent remarks by Matt Tomaso,
Bob Graber, and Mike Carson. To be human is to predict. I reach for my cup of
coffee and I am, ipso facto, involved in predictions. The cup is real--not an
illusion. There is coffee in it. I have sufficient control over my hand to
grasp and lift it. The shattering effects of living in an unpredictable
universe are all to evident if the cup turns out to be an image in a mirror,
what I thought was coffee turns out to be motor oil, or, suddenly afflicted by
a stroke, I find that I can no longer control my hand.

When I do any form of research,I find myself predicting constantly. I ask a
question of a friend/informant/author of the book I am reading. I anticipate an
answer which falls within a certain range of linguistically and culturally
acceptable responses. When my prediction fails, I look for reasons why. My
question was ill-formed, my grasp of the language and cultural rules in play
was flawed, the person I am questioning is flawed in some similar or, perhaps,
dissimilar way. If the occasion is a Chinese banquet and my informant chokes andstarts to turn blue immediately after I pose my question, it is altogether possible that s/he is choking on a bone and a Heimlich maneuver is in order. That
the fish was poisoned is another but more remote possibility.

Could it be that the issue is not whether we predict but HOW we predict?
Consider a simple physical case: water turning into ice.

A says, "Water freezes when it gets cold enough."
By says, "Water freezes when the temperature reaches 0 degrees celsius."
C says, "The shift in phase from liquid to solid which occurs at 0 degrees
Celsius is a consequence of quantum dynamic relationships between the elements
hydrogen and oxygen that result in molecules with a characteristic shape (I'll
stop here, my ignorance is all too obvious.).....

If we imagine a universe in which predicted relationships are, as I mentioned
before, linear, curvilinear, chaotic, complex, etc....Where to anthropological
predictions stack up? Could this be the real question?

Yours truly,

John McCreery