Anthropologist sees the world as a world of extreme complexity or as a series of Big Data ( NP hard ) problems , hence, some field complexities could be described as“ botanic rarities of the most exotic kind “ by literary forms , whereas another complexities are ready for scientific computational analysis.
As is known the first attempts to introduce systematic scientific analysis of culture as “ a set of mechanical devices “ ( Malinowski ) or as a sort of “computer software “( Leach ) were made by functionalists . In 1933 White émigré Russian functionalist S.M. Shirokogoroff also used equations of statistical physics in order to describe self-organization effect of his “ethnoses theory “( used by Soviet ethnography, later ). In 1940s Levi-Strauss and Andre Weil attempted to use elements of modular algebra and becoming category mathematics in kinship classifications in the terms of structuralism. At the same time Levi-Strauss had found simplification of this mathematics in the form of Jakobson ‘s binary arithmetic ( “system of phonological distinctive features “), generalized the first by “functionalist-structuralist” Edmund Leach.
Probably, the best expression of becoming mathematical tradition in anthropology belongs Edmund R. Leach, Cambridge’ applied mathematician having engineering background. Some passages by Leach in this context are very impressive, indeed :
“ I tend to think of social systems as machines for the ordering of social relations or as buildings that are likely to collapse if the stresses and strains of the roof structure are not properly in balance. When I was engaged in fieldwork
I saw my problem as trying to understand "just how the system works" or "why it held together."
“ In my own mind these were not just metaphors but problems of mechanical insight; nor was it just make-believe. To this day, in quite practical matters, I remain an unusually competent amateur mechanic and retain an interest in
architecture which is much more concerned with structural features of design than with aesthetics “
“ I had learned to work with binary arithmetic before I had ever heard of computing or of Saussurean linguistics. I recall that when, in 1961, I first encountered Jakobson' s system of phonological distinctive features my inner reaction was: "Ah! I have been here before!" “
“ My engineering background also effected the way I reacted to Marxism “.
“ My concern with design stability does not mean that I am unmoved by the aesthetics of great architecture, but it adds a dimension which less numerate observers probably miss. My private use of the concept of "structure" in social
anthropology is thus different both from the usage developed by Radcliffe - Brown and Fortes (where it simply refers to the skeletal framework of society without any consideration of design features) and from Levi -Strauss's transformational usage, which borrows from Jakobson's phonology, though my engineer's viewpoint is much closer to the latter than to the former.”
“ In terms of my engineering metaphor, Fortes describes the social machinery and its component parts but is unconvincing when he tries to explain how the system works . Firth gives us an instruction manual for operating the machinery,but he does not tell us what the bits and pieces would look like if we took it apart. Or to pursue my art and architecture model: it is wholly appropriate that Firth should be entranced by the highly decorated solidity of the Romanesque Cathedral at Conques and that Fortes should have been overawed by the symmetrical Gothic fragilities of King's College Chapel “
“ anthropologists are engaged in a scientific discipline which is capable of revealing facts of (social) nature in much the same way as experiments in physics reveal the facts of physical nature”
“ I never had the makings of a true mathematician, but I was mathematically literate. I learned about "transformational" theory (in the form of advanced algebra and the nineteenth century developments of projective geometry) several years before I entered Cambridge as an undergraduate. If some of my anthropological work is"structuralist" in style, it is for that reason”.
“ Another key point, about which I was also quite explicit, was that my use of "function" derived from mathematics and not from biology or psychology, as was the case with the followers of Radcliffe-Brown and Malinowski. Consequently, from my point of view, there was no inconsistency between " functionalism" and "structuralism" (in its then novel continental sense) “.
“ Human society was made by man, so man should be able to understand society, in an engineering sense, e.g. why it holds together and does not collapse. Behind this there is the further perception that all the artifacts (including human society) which man thus "makes" must necessarily be projective transformations of what the human brain already "knows." This implies, to use computer terminology, that social products are generated by "software programs," operating through but limited by the computer-like machinery of the human brain. The "software" comes from our cultural environment; the "hardware" derives from our genetic inheritance.”
“… being a functionalist and being a structuralist; I have quite consistently been both at once. But both my functionalism and my structuralism derive from my grounding in mathematics and engineering “.
“ Furthermore, I have an engineer's interest in design, in how local regions of complex unbounded systems "work ." Indeed, I have consistently maintained that the social systems with which anthropologists have to deal are not, in any empirical sense, bounded at all. To discuss the plurality of cultures is for me nonsense…”
[ “ Glimpes of the unmentionable in the history of British social anthropology “ Ann. Rev. Anthropol. 1984. 13:1-23 ].
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