Thursday, October 28, 2010

People thinking about people

Sorry for the ramlyness and possible lack of sense, my brain short-circuited three days ago and the electrician hasn’t been in to fix it yet…

I found Thomas’ article to be wonderfully relevant for me as it dealt with the study of artifacts, which as a historian has always been my favourite method of study for obvious reasons. I found Thomas’s criticism of scholars like Mead - who assert that the study of artifacts is insufficient in studying human culture in comparison to ethnographic studies that measures behaviour - to be very pertinent as Thomas once more touches upon the recurring theme of this course, the issue of truthiness. Thomas specifically points out that the criticism by other scholars of the study of artifacts, in reference to them as reliable sources for attributing cultural meaning, is an issue of interpretation in relation to the data. Yet as Thomas astutely demonstrates all data regardless if its gathered from ethnographic studies or artifacts is subject to interpretation. A notion I have always personally believed; everything is subjective and in turn interpretive. As such it always makes me wonder why some people choose to attribute greater value to one method over another with the belief that it offers more objective results when it is the context, as Thomas says, which alters the value of the method.

Sometimes I think that interpretation or rather the lens/rules through which we interpret data is of greater importance than the method of its collection. To that end I’d like to share with you a quote by Douglas Adams from his Mostly Harmless that I found relevant … and I just thought it was funny and wanted to share.

“I know that astrology isn't a science,” said Gail. “Of course it isn't. It's just an arbitrary set of rules like chess or tennis or, what's the strange thing you British play?” “Er, cricket? Self-loathing?” “Parliamentary democracy.” The rules just kind of got there. They don't make any kind of sense except in terms of themselves. But when you start to exercise those rules, all sorts of processes start to happen and you start to find out all sorts of stuff about people. In astrology the rules happen to be about stars and planets, but they could be about ducks and drakes for all difference it would make. It's just a way thinking about a problem which lets the shape of that problem begin emerge. The more rules, the tinier the rules, the more arbitrary they are, the better. It's like throwing a handful of fine graphite dust on a piece of paper to see where the hidden indentations are. It lets you see the words that were written on the piece of the paper above it that's now been taken away and hidden. The graphite's not important. It's just the means of revealing their indentations. So you see, astrology's nothing to do with astronomy. It's just to do with people thinking about people...”

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