This is a study group of the book Dynamical Processes on Complex Networks, by Alain Barrat, and a discussion group of the book's applications to Economic, Cultural and Social Anthropology as well as to other social sciences.
Latest Activity: Oct 31, 2014
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John: Well, I learned about Mughal Science in a class on Indian Art and Architecture as an undergraduate student. I can try to excavate the references that were given; I remember that there were some quite impressive toms on this subject, which may warrant some revisiting. I am very interested in this subject, although it must be a side project that may take some time as I am very busy with teaching myself Python right now, as well as busy with conceptualizing my main work that I am hoping to accomplish during my PhD (this involves a lot of dynamics on complex networks and only relatively little history of social science, which is something I want to get more into once I am finished with my dissertation).
Two paths leading to an intersection: White, male, 67, anthropologist, adman, American, lives and works in Japan, sings in a Japanese men's chorus; Japanese, female, 28, has since March played first violin in a symphony orchestra in Geneva, a position reached by auditions that started with 400 applicants and weeded them down to her. Location, party following concert at which the symphony orchestra accompanied the chorus.
A teasing sort of question: What sort of dynamic model would predict that?
Jacob: I can easily imagine nodes with high centrality being in the path of more disease or other threat vectors. Also remember Shakespeare, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
Johannes: We need, I now recognize, to pay a bit more attention to our units of comparison and what we are looking for. That there have been individuals doing what we would call science in relative isolation, even brief bursts of what we would call scientific activity, in many parts of the world is undeniable. But their presence is at best a necessary condition for what happened in the West, the emergence of science as a distinct and flourishing , major institution that plays a central and continuing role in cultural evolution.
In China studies the first place we turn when this debate comes up is Joseph Needham's mammoth compendium Science and Civilization in China.
Do we have anything comparable about the Mughal science you mention?
This may be of interest.
ABSTRACT: The architecture of mutualistic networks facilitates coexistence of individual participants by minimizing competition relative to facilitation1, 2. However, it is not known whether this benefit is received by each participant node in proportion to its overall contribution to network persistence. This issue is critical to understanding the trade-offs faced by individual nodes in a network3, 4, 5. We address this question by applying a suite of structural and dynamic methods to an ensemble of flowering plant/insect pollinator networks. Here we report two main results. First, nodes contribute heterogeneously to the overall nested architecture of the network. From simulations, we confirm that the removal of a strong contributor tends to decrease overall network persistence more than the removal of a weak contributor. Second, strong contributors to collective persistence do not gain individual survival benefits but are in fact the nodes most vulnerable to extinction. We explore the generality of these results to other cooperative networks by analysing a 15-year time series of the interactions between designer and contractor firms in the New York City garment industry. As with the ecological networks, a firm's survival probability decreases as its individual nestedness contribution increases. Our results, therefore, introduce a new paradox into the study of the persistence of cooperative networks, and potentially address questions about the impact of invasive species in ecological systems and new competitors in economic systems.
This last question is indeed very interesting! ...Do you know about the great scientists of Mughal India? They certainly were both empiricists and abstract theoreticians, so they fit your definition of scientists, which I very much agree with, by the way. Some of them were Muslim (although their version of Islam was not very orthodox) and some of them were Hindu and there were many other religions, including Buddhism and Jainism (they lived in a truly pluralist society). So, if science in the modern Western sense is a product of monotheism, what then was different about Hindu science, if anything? Also, the ancient Greeks, whose writings were preserved by Islamic scholars and whose philosophy is often seen as the starting point of Western science, were everything but monotheist. Also, the Mayans had a flourishing science and many Gods. I'm getting into all of this because I think that it would be perhaps fruitful to investigate what exactly it is that is different about non-Western sciences, so that we may discover our own biases. It is easy for some interpretivist to say that our current Western way of knowing is bias and hegemonic, but it is much harder to pinpoint exactly what biases there are. In the end, I do believe that there are some ways of knowing that are more valid than others and the best thing we can do is to find them and then eliminate as many of our biases as possible as we go on.
P.S. Empiricism per se is not the hallmark of science it may seem to be if science is seen in a conventional way as a turning from abstract thinking to empirical demonstration. Empiricism is present wherever human beings have practical things to do. The engineers who built Roman aqueducts or the Great Wall of China were sound empirical thinkers. Malinowski found that Trobriand love magic was constructed empirically as well, in a manner I recognized from my work with Daoist healers. People have problems. Other people suggest solutions (generally only partial solutions with lots left out, frequently deliberately). Someone tries the suggested solution. If it seems to work, and it sometimes will, everyone thinks "problem solved." If it doesn't, they tinker with the suggestion or try something else. Empiricism is, in short, pensé sauvage/bricolage, in action in everyday life.
As I see it science is neither empiricism nor abstract thinking alone. It only appears when the two are combined. The interesting question is when and why that happens.
Beware of anachronism in my all too rapid sketches. The Chinese habits I describe are probably much older (Confucius remark about the gentlemen behaving in ritual as if the spirits are present but not concerning himself with the question of their existence is found in the Analects), but the debate about whether Chinese had religion or not starts in earnest in the 19th century. Voltaire and some other philosophes saw the Chinese empire from afar as a land of rational governance and a model for Europe to emulate, but that was 18th century stuff.
Also, my ignorance re the Middle East is profound. What little I do know suggests that Renaissance thinkers rediscovered the ancient Greeks in texts preserved and annotated by Arabs and Islam is more fiercely monotheistic in theory than Christianity. In the late Middle Ages, however, the middle east was pretty much reduced to ruin by first the Mongols and then the Turks who followed Tamerlane. Where Arab science was headed before then is an area in which I am totally blank.
...Thank you John, I find your analysis quite interesting actually (not at all a put off)! I know that Newton and Leibniz both were after proving God's existence and thus they found the Calculus in this pursuit. However, it is interesting that Chinese religious ideas were "too empirical" to be considered properly religious and if you were to step back in time to the "European dark ages" you might find that the Arabian scholars of the day were "too empirical too." Why then, is Western empiricism considered too empiricist to reach beyond its Western origins? Maybe modern social science is just the natural continuation of Ibn Khaldoun's work ...would that be Western?
P.S. If you are not put off entirely by my ramblings, allow me to recommend The Propensity of Things: A History of Efficacy in China. As you will notice from the URL, it is published by MIT Press. Just let me put it this way. Try to imagine a physics modeled on the game of Go instead of billiards. It's an interesting exercise.
Now it is noon. I'm a bit more sentient. I do know, of course, that "we" (meaning scholars who pay attention to such things) have come a long way from dogmatic monocausal explanations. But "we" (the people around me on and off-line) still seem to put a lot of time and energy into arguing about what is "THE RIGHT ANSWER" and "HOW CAN YOU KNOW THAT?" Some years ago, I began to develop the ideas spurred by your question about what is specifically Western about Western epistemology via a different question, "Why did what we call modern science develop in Western Europe instead of somewhere else, China, for example." My original research focus was Chinese religion (thus, the article whose introduction you have read) and one of the things that make Chinese religion interesting is the long-standing debate about whether China, whose landscape is littered with temples, shrines, festivals, a baroque proliferation of ritual and related paraphenalia, has any religion at all. Why did that debate occur? Because, I believe, when Christian missionaries came to China, they didn't just find what looked like pagan religion, they found people acting toward their gods, ghosts and ancestors in ways that didn't seem properly religious at all. They weren't in awe of their gods in the way that the one Lord God of monotheistic religions demands. Their "religious" attitudes seemed too empirical, too pragmatic, too frankly transaction-oriented to be properly religious at all.
How does this relate to the origins of science in the West. My suggestion is that if life, luck and salvation are all seen as depending on one almighty God who is, by definition, a creator out there, by definition, not part of the everyday world, trying to figure out what he's thinking becomes a more urgent issue than picking a deity because he or she seems efficacious (I hear a lot of stories, and lots of people are going to that temple). When someone says that God demands this or that, the question "How do you know that?" comes with a sharper edge.
But what, you ask, does religion have to do with science? Quite a lot it turns out. The 17th century founders of modern science, Newton is a good example, thought quite literally that they were reading the mind of God. How could they do that? They had decided that, God being perfect must be a mathematician. Thus, other mathematicians could puzzle out for themselves what He had in mind when He created the world. I have also seen it suggested that the banishing of theological concerns from the remit of the Royal Society was in part a way to avoid sectarian quarrels at a time when religion was still a literally bloody-minded business in Europe. Confining discussion to visibly demonstrable phenomena, produced by experiments that others could perform for themselves, and describing both mathematically meant that two people whose religious or political views might lead them to kill each other could still talk about things of common interest.
It was following this line of speculation that led me to the answer I wrote in response to your question. Does this make any sense at all?
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