Friday, March 1, 2013

Nuclear physics and anthropology, shall the twain ever meet?

For a clearly humanities-inclined kid, I have done tons of algebra, geometry and physics at school. That may be why, when I talk to people who have made it into social sciences by way of A-levels and GCSE, their squeamishness about parallels from natural sciences very quaint. Granted, the methods and methodologies may seem opposite, but there are areas where the twain, human/social sciences and cognitive disciplines, do meet. That's the philosophy of sciences and nuclear physics -- remember Thomas Kuhn?

I remember all too well the winces and the blank stares I encountered every time I would bring the following quote in Research Methods in Anthropology seminars: "The observer always influences the observed system." That sums up all anthropological discussions about representation, authenticity, ethics, etc. in one sentence. Maybe that's why it makes people feel uncomfortable.

I do enjoy thinking of myself as a Socratic gadfly, so here is another nuclear physics quote for you: "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." Werner Heisenberg. That answers a lot of questions even before they are asked, doesn't it?

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