Thursday, February 28, 2008

Aardvarchaeology : Archaeology and Scientism

Martin Rundkvist makes an excellent argument about archaeology and Scientism in his Aardvardaeology blog. In this argument he argues against interpretive types of products that focus entirely on modern contexts to tell stories about the past. While he makes a good point about interpretive stories and the need to focus on "evidence" in the "real world" he makes a serious mistake. In particular, he implies that somehow we can see the "real evidence" to "study culture." In this part of the argument he misses the point that culture is something we use as a concept to describe and explain what we see. This is vital to the understanding of the process of science. We create meaningful units (for us, "culture" for chemists: "elements") to describe the world so that we can account for it. Cornelius Osgood made this point in 1951 - along with many other folks (e.g., Lewontin 1971).

The importance of this issue is what keeps us from doing the interpretive dance. If we have meaningful units that we explicitly construct, we then can see how our understanding fits the expectations of the world. This avoids the notion that there is a single "answer" out there - but yet allows us to see science as a constructive process.

[From Aardvarchaeology : Archaeology and Scientism]
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