Friday, August 14, 2009

Defining "Natural Science"

While I'm thinking of it, I should mention that there is a core difference between the position that Rushkoff makes in the article I recently linked to, and the methodology of 1000 Years Of Nonlinear History. Rushkoff proposes that "economics is not natural science." In the way that he frames it, I am prone to agree. However, 1000 Years of Nonlinear History depends on the idea that all human activity- and that includes economic- is a part of natural processes, and they can in fact be understood through metaphorical "engineering diagrams" that go beyond a loose analogy. And to this point as well, I completely agree.

That may seem like a contradiction, but the issue is that both arguments are framing "natural processes" in a different way. In Rushkoff's case, if I can put words in his mouth, I believe he's assuming "biased" = "un-natural." Whereas Manuel De Landa seems to take a broader view, all processes are natural processes, and all of them can be understood through larger and smaller scale analogs, though of course in the process of changing scale one can discover that the territory completely changes. (The world would be quite strange if the principles of quantum mechanics applied to our scale / frame of reference. There's a lot of interesting thought on the topic of scale and how it relates to perception in Hofstadter's I Am A Strange Loop, if you're interested.)

The interjection of bias (which occurs, in one form or another, as a byproduct of every perception, almost as smoke results from a fire), doesn't render something unnatural. However, taking "natural science" as a specific discipline, Rushkoff's thesis again makes sense. Both are (potentially) true. Words are such slippery things.

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