On Boundary Conditions


The perspective on accounts suggests that a self-conscious concern with one's methods of working should become a critical resource for that work. This may be taken to include a self- reflexive concern with the manner in which we partition experience and the categories we employ in our investigations. The manner in which we partition experience is fundamentally an issue of development and the manner in which we are coupled to our surround.

To say that accounts have an epistemological and not an ontological status is to assert that they are situated and conditional. They arise out of our attempts to order existential situations, to make sense out of phenomena, and function as temporary heuristics for the guidance of exploration. Hence we must give up the goal of a complete and final explanation for the sciences.

The physicist David Bohm (1961) in his critical analysis of programs which have a complete representation of reality as their goal, argues that on the contrary, all scientific accounts are necessarily conditioned accounts. Bohm notes that every scientific account is directed to a particular bounded domain of experience. "Each particular theory of explanation of a given set of phenomena will then have a limited domain of validity and will be adequate only in a limited context and under limited conditions (p. 31)." The scientific enterprise entails a search for entities, processes and structures and for the boundary conditions of their domains of applicability. To neglect that it is we who partially abstract the domain from its background, is to misunderstand both the status and the conditional nature of explanations.

It is suggested that the determination of appropriate boundary conditions has been a major problem for workers in the human sciences. In determining boundary conditions our manner of partitioning experience, the employment of categorical distinctions and the network of such distinctions is made problematic. For clearly, it does not follow that the ideological distinctions of our everyday taken-for-granted world are necessarily the most appropriate categories for the definition and analysis of the domain. Indeed, if they function as mystifying ideologies, they cannot be.

On Partitioning the Analytic Domain - Heuristic Assumptions

It is time, then, to turn to issues of partitioning the investigative domain of the human sciences. Certain heuristic assumptions ought to guide this partitioning:

1. The partitioning of a domain should be the outcome of exploratory activity, not done apriori. This means that distinctions inherited from other domains ought to be critically examined before their adoption, and that their acceptance never be unconditional.
2. Analysis should begin with what, according to our judgment, are the most advanced perspectives in the relevant domain(s).
3. In the present case, we assume that any adequate perspective in the human sciences ought to be consistent with the most advanced accounts of phylogeny, ontogeny and biological systems perspectives.
4. The methodological injunction which says that at bottom, an account must be judged by where it leads us to look, and the satisfaction obtained by seeing new relationships.

On Partitioning the Analytic Domain - Empirical Foundations

It is often forgotten that the appropriate subject matter for the human sciences is human behaviour. This fact is forced upon us by relatively new film technologies that allow us to analyze behavior in social interaction using slow motion techniques and repeated viewing. Today's film technology allows us to observe, on a variety of levels simultaneously, overlapping and enveloping rhythms of activity. "As a person's posture shifts, so does the head, the eyes, the nostrils, the limbs, and so on. At the same time, and with their own characteristic rhythms, changes in coupled activity patterns across a variety of physiological levels are taking place. Concomitant changes in coupled patterns of activity are also being expressed on levels of organization above that of the individual: as a person's posture shifts, so does the posture of the partner in conversation, of the dyad, of the entire social group. The understanding of the individual's postural shift requires that it be viewed as being coupled to both lower and higher levels of organization constituting its enveloped and enveloping environments.
When analyzing film records we see order at a microsecond level in the individual's behavior and in that of the dyad or social group. Microsecond postural adjustments. Synchrony of behaviors. The dance.

It is suggested that we still do not know what it is that the human being does. We are still not aware of our sensitivities, the channels by which we are coupled to our world.

The Life Sciences

Heuristic #3 above is itself an example of an initial partitioning, for it suggests that human behavior must be interpreted within a context of the biological sciences. It is assumed that there are continuities between ourselves and other living organisms. A naturalistic perspective is thus adopted that postulates the continuity of lower (less complex) and the higher (more complex) activities and forms.

While such a postulate is not foreign today, its implications have still not been fully realized or are misconstrued. It does not imply a reduction of behavior to biological factors, as this is often interpreted. It does imply that in order to understand the particular way in which humans are in the world, with our abilities to "think", "speak", use "logic", etc., we have to show the relationship between these activities and, how they emerge from, lower forms. Assuming continuties implies that the lower forms condition the nature of the higher forms. All too often we define a level of analysis that is uniquely human and isolated from its origins. Today this is evident in the manner in which we interpret evolution as having given rise to levels of biological organization uniquely human and which have come to play a controlling function that supersedes more primitive mechanisms.

The proper situating of homo sapiens sapiens within an evolutionary context will require a reworking of many conceptions we have about levels of analysis, causation and explanation, and consequently the manner in which we divide up "appropriate" topics of investigation among the various life-science disciplines. These disciplines currently define practices which function to direct our attention in particular, often inadequate, ways.

Biological Systems, Coupled Systems, Open-Structuralism, Organism-in-Context, Biological sciences: systems and their development. Quite normal to view the system as a whole, in connection with it's surround. Organism - surround - connecting processes. Control as distributed across levels of the system.

Reductionism in the human sciences: however, when it comes to human beings, we still have located the control in a mind as an independent level of analysis. Reductionism can mean reducing phenomena to lower levels, or cutting off a higher level from the rest. This is what we do with humans. We assume there is a higher level of functioning that is complete in and of itself for explaining behavior - a mental level. No matter if we assume this is an emergent property of the body or something completely separate from biology.

Mind/body: this distinction still haunts us. It is a distinction that originated in philosophy. It is part of a tradition that seeks a distinguishing characteristic of humans, something that sets us apart from other organisms. A last resource for the "distinctiveness of man" hypothesis.

Epistemology: because we are still working with this partitioning, our concepts of "knowledge" are informed by it. Knowledge is discussed as something mental, i.e. abstract - models, schema, concepts. While the "constructivist" perspective is a step forward and ties in more closely with recent trends in philosophy of science, in literary theory and the like, it still lacks an adequate foundation in biology. People seem to be accepting Kant, despite the philosophical problems with his position. Kant's position is not evolutionary, since he posited fixed categories by which we organize experience. Hence, not revolutionary.

Cognitive psychology: there is much to say here. Most of what cognitive psychology does today has been profoundly influenced by Piaget (and in philosophy, by Kant), who in large part was responsible for re-introducing the study of mental life into (American) psychology. We can trace the origins of today's "constructivist" perspective, with its notions of schema and formal logical operations, to him.

Constructivism: While there is much to this perspective that is in agreement with the present one. There is still one fundamental difference that makes the present account appear quite different. This has to do with the partitioning of the human organism into a mind and a body.

Here the view is adopted that partitioning the human organism into a mental life and a biological life is too precipitous a distinction. There is no reason to accept distinctions that were created in philosophy for purposes that were important two thousand years ago, particularly if the motives for having made such a distinction in the first place are no longer ours.

The redrawing of boundary conditions in the human sciences is important because...

Many of the problems in the human sciences will be seen to be irrelevant as we redefine discipline boundaries, levels of analysis, causality and explanation. Mind/body, nature/nurture, etc. Interdisciplinary work today is hindered by "just the assumptions about levels, phenomena and causes that are usually used to define disciplines." (Oyama, p. 147) The "specialness of man"


L_Heglar@compuserve.com