"Find out how to fix longitude and you're the richest man in the world...You're lost, lad, unless...unless you have a rutter!

"A rutter was a small black book containing the detailed observation of a pilot who had been there before. It recorded magnetic compass courses between ports and capes, headlands and channels. It noted the sounding and depths and color of the water and the nature of the seabed. It set down the how we got there and how we got back: how many days on a special tack, the pattern of the wind, when it blew and from where, what currents to expect and from where; the time of storms and the time of fair winds; where to careen the ship and where to water; where there were friends and where foes; shoals, reefs, tides, havens; at best, everything necessary for a safe voyage.

"But a rutter was only as good as the pilot who wrote it, the scribe who hand-copied it, the very rare printer who printed it, or the scholar who translated it. A rutter could therefore contain errors. Even deliberate ones. A pilot never knew for certain until he had been there himself. At least once."

J. Clavell

What follows is a rutter of what must be studied today in the human sciences. A tentative map of the shoals and the depths, the reefs, the currents and the passages - an indexing of advanced texts for those who have decided to leave charted waters and sail out on their own. At bottom, one only has one's own "nose" as a guide.

The various texts presented here -- articles, commentaries, remarks, notes, cutouts -- move across a wide range of disciplines that may be grouped under the "life sciences". The overarching heuristic, or regulative principle, that guides the construction and selection of texts herein, is that our accounts in the human sciences must be consistent with accounts being developed in other areas of the life sciences. The present reading suggests that we must move in a direction of seeing human behavior as "situated" -- radically connected to our social and ecological surroundings. It is further suggested that such a view is inconsistent with the current emphasis in the social sciences on "cognition."

The human sciences still have not come to terms with the self-reflexive character of the discipline. We need to formulate a perspective on what it means to be producing oral and textual accounts, an activity that we have traditionally placed under the auspices of a concept of "mind", "language", "writing", or "speech". Many, if not most, difficulties we currently face in the human sciences revolve around this activity and the status we accord our own formulstions. Hence, this series of documents starts with a perspective on the activity of producing accounts.


Requirements for a Science of Human Conduct

We are faced with difficult problems in the human sciences. Problems which are difficult to get a handle on, but which demand some minimally adequate formulation.

We take an initial step. We note that we are confronted in the human sciences with an overlap of domains. We are involved in a human activity at the same time that we are studying human activity. This requires a perspective which recognizes that we are engaged in the very same activities as those we study. It may be suggested that here is where the human sciences have thus far failed. We have failed to define that additional domain that will help us make sense of our own activity of constructing accounts. Traditionally this has been categorized as a problem of "knowledge", and we are at a point in the field of epistemology where we can no longer consider a theory of knowledge without examining the human condition.

Our task in the human sciences is thus to construct accounts of research domains, and to simultaneously explore the process of constructing such accounts. This will be talked about as the analytic domain. Put in other terms, a central theme of the present account is that we must be explicitly concerned with the relationship between the context of the event and the context of investigation.

It must be made clear that we are constructing accounts; hence, we must make the activity of account-construction problematic. In this document, an account of accounts is the centerpiece around which revolves other analyses.


It is an important historical fact that a number of often disparate disciplines have all converged on the issue of the relation of the observer to the phenomenon under investigation. The status which the observer-observed linkage is given is treated differently across the various disciplines.

An explicit concern with the linkage of the knower to the known predates these recent developments, and is found to be central to Kant's "Copernican Revolution" in epistemology. For Kant, coherent experience was considered to be an outcome of the knower's employment of categories upon the unformed surround. Hence, the categories were necessary for the "possibility of experience". Alternatively stated, experience is analyzed as an output of the inextricable linkage between observer and observed.

From the present perspective, we would replace Kant's closed system of categories with an open system of shifting categories, and go on to view the "categories" not as dialectically inferred cognitive structures of mind, but as a complex set of morphological constraints, ecological constraints, and social constraints. More about this elsewhere.

Philosophy of Science

This concern with the relation of the observer to the observed has given rise to issues in various domains related to the production of explanatory accounts and the status which such accounts ought to be accorded.

For the philosophy of science, one aspect of the issue of the status of accounts entails questioning the traditional view that our accounts are absolute, timeless accounts of objects and events. As an alternative, the proposal is made to view accounts as conditional and temporary. At least three arguments support the latter view (Bohm, 1957). In the first place, a historical argument may be made by noting that there is no historical evidence that any human account has remained unchanged across place and time, in science or any other discipline. Even so- called "facts" are altered with changes of interests, problems, and theories (Kuhn, 1962; Feyerabend, 1975). Second, one may make a heuristic argument to the effect that investigation is hindered by any claim that an account is absolute and final, or that the events in a particular domain may be exhaustively accounted for by a definite and limited set of principles. It is always necessary to establish boundary conditions with regard to the validity of any theory, model, or principle, and these are generally not known without continued investigation. Claims that accounts are unconditional cannot be subjected to any sort of experimental proof, and are unnecessary. Third, the activity of science requires that every assumption, concept, and principle be subjected to critical scrutiny and be continually evaluated for its utility in helping us explore domains of interest.

Related to the issue of an account's status is a concern with the activity of constructing accounts. For various reasons this activity is coming to be viewed as most problematic and deserving of explicit analytic attention, and as having both epistemological and methodological implications. In the philosophy of science, where previously accounts were evaluated solely on the basis of their rational properties as finished products, greater attention is being given to their use and development (Suppe, 1977) - the factors governing the development, formulation, and acceptance or rejection, and the manner in which legitimate problems and their solutions are defined. Hence, the concerns of philosophy of science now overlap those of historians and sociologists.

This new perspective in the philosophy of science forthrightly rejects the traditional goal of a final truth or complete explanation. For any given domain, the particular set of scientific models, instruments, and practices are employed together for the exploration of that domain. Their employment gives rise to empirical accounts which provide accountings of the events in the domain under consideration. Empirical accounts are initially generated as an output of exploratory work conducted under particular conditions. The produced account is therefore as much "about" its conditions of production as it is "about" the research domain per se. It follows from this that there can be no epistemological justification for the universal application of an empirical account to all domains and contexts.

Since an account by definition must reflect the conditions of its production, the question of its "correspondence" with reality is untestable. We have no reason to expect that science is moving toward a complete, exhaustive, and never-to-be amended account. An adherence to a particular account with the dogmatic expectation that it will eventually be completely verified has historically reduced the vitality and productiveness of work in a domain.

If one gives up the goal a completely verified account, what alternative is available? The present alternative replaces truth and verification with the notions of heuristic value, and the aesthetic adequacy of an account. An account's heuristic value is given by the new directions in which it points, the pathways for action it opens up, the new problems or phenomena which it makes available. The aesthetic adequacy of an account is given by the quality and harmoniousness of its accounting work. The criteria by which accounts must be judged are ultimately social and individual. This means that the ultimate criterion by which an account must be judged is whether or not it helps you make sense of a domain.

Regarding the Notion of "Accounts"

In the foregoing discussion attention has focused upon the status of accounts, not the status of theories, models, or other wholly abstract notions. "Theories" and "models" naturally lead to conceptions of ideal entities; things independent of their producer and his concrete perspective. "Accounts," on the other hand, naturally leads to conceptions of a particular point of view, an accounting, a tieing together.

To produce an account is to engage in the process of accounting. It is to tie together in a particular proportion the salient component features of a process with which one is involved. This is a bodily activity: a sensory-motor surveillance and attentional joining of regions/processes composing one's surround.

A necessary component of the process of accounting is the partitioning of the regions/processes composing one's surround. Given the achieved partitionings, the individual then selectively identifies, ties together and evaluates a set of regions/processes.

Accounts serve their primary function in the direction of attention and the modulation of state. Hence, accounts ultimately function to modulate and constrain patterns of conduct. This function is differentially important for each of two types of accounts, which we may initially identify as oral and textual.

Oral Accounts

The production of oral accounts is a ubiquitous phenomenon of social interaction. Beyond their basic function for the direction of attention and the imposition of constraints upon conduct, oral accounts serve a variety of functions. For the moment, let us note that:

  1. Oral accounts, are interactively produced/sustained. The primary function of vocal conduct is for the regulation of social interaction;
  2. Oral accounts are often accompanied by textual emblematic support - pencils, cigarettes, drinks or objects of any sort. These are markers that function to warrant and ratify the account. (This is similar to ethnomethodology's "chestnut evidence". Also note Malinowski's analysis of the Trobriand islander's textual markers as the material token warranting the partitioning which provides the material anchor of/for "cultural" ideologies of "rights");
  3. Oral accounts may evolve into ritual stories, incantations, etc. and thereby serve as at least temporary textual accounts, and from there evolve into written textual accounts;
  4. Oral accounts serve an accounting function - listing, counting, warranting activities, providing avenues for action.

Textual Accounts

The notion of text and the relation of texts and accounts presents us with a most complex problem. A consideration of this problem requires the presentation of some notions concerned with the status of text and the process of partitioning.

There are numerous domains to which we may turn, such as philosophy proper, literature, rhetoric, linguistics, philosophy of science or the philosophy of history. Investigators in all these areas have at one time or another considered questions related to the construction of texts. This is significant because it indicates that both the activities of textual construction and reading are less taken for granted and instead viewed as problematic. Increasingly one sees exhibited a concern with the characteristics of these activities as opposed to the absolute truth value of a text's "content" (the knolwdge "contained" therein). For example, J.Derrida (1977) states:

" would not be justifiable to define communication a priori as the transmission of a meaning, even supposing that we could agree on what each of these words (transmission, meaning, etc.) involved...I would even go so far as to say that it is the interpretation of writing that is peculiar and proper to philosophy (pp. 172-173, 175)."

Similarly, W.B. Gallie (1963) says in regard to the domain of historical analysis:

" critical philosopher of history has as yet offered us a clear account of what it is to follow or to construct a historical narrative...Given the accepted terminologies and characteristic presumption of that (Platonic) tradition (of universal accounts), it is virtually impossible to describe convincingly the most basic and familiar things that historians and readers of history are always doing - but doing without bothering to analyze or to justify what they are doing (pp. 149-150)."

And what can we say of the activity of writing, constructing a narrative, or more fundamentally, the creation of a textual account? At bottom, this is an activity of making marks on some medium. In formal logic this seemingly mundane activity has come to take on a central salience. For example, Van Heijenoort (1967) notes, regarding the notion of a formal logical system:

"In such a system signs are manipulated according to rules that ignore the interpretations of the signs and simply deal with marks written one after another. We have well-formed formulas (that is, strings of marks satisfying certain conditions as to their shapes and occurrences) and proofs (that is, sequences of well formed formulas also satisfying certain perceptual conditions)(p. 349)."

Note, there is nothing here claiming that the manipulation of a formal logical system is an abstract conceptual activity. Van Heijenoort suggests that it is a very concrete activity of systematically making marks on some medium. By "systematic" is meant that they satisfy certain perceptual conditions - that is, that the text is constructed by the deployment of particular formats that have a certain communicative value. Furthermore, it may be added that none of the formats (formulas, proofs) have any special status. There are an indefinite number of formal "logics" that may be created, and none represent a "true" system. Logic, in this view, is no longer concerned with questions of knowledge or of the laws of thought (see On the Status of Formal Systems and the Production of Text for further discussion).

If we consider the construction of text to be an activity of systematically making marks on some medium, then we have to consider what the significance of this activity might be. In other words, what function might be served by making a mark or sequence of them? Traditionally this question is bound to questions of an epistemological sort, concerning knowledge, language, and the theory of meaning. More specifically, making marks on some medium has been treated as an activity of representing, denoting, or signifying some state of affairs by the use of signs or symbols. In this view, the activity of making a mark involves encoding a meaning which the mark contains. The reader must then decode the mark in order for it to be informative. This perspective has been adopted in various forms by linguistics, sociolinguistics, and most other domains in the human sciences.

One may begin to articulate a different perspective, based on the notion that accounts partition regions/processes of one's surround. Rather than being denotational or pointing, the activity of making and reading marks may be viewed as an activity of partitioning. In the field of literary criticism, Barthes (1974) has sought for the relation between the partitioning of text and analysis:

"The text, in its mass, is comparable to a sky, at once flat and smooth, deep, without edges and without landmarks; like the soothsayer drawing on it with the tip of his staff an imaginary rectangle wherein to consult, according to certain principles, the flight of birds, the commentator traces through the text certain zones of reading, in order to observe therein the migration of meanings, the outcropping of codes, the passage of citations (p. 14)."

To construct a text is thus to draw a network of parititionings, and to make a partition is to impose constraints on action. This may be extended beyond consideration of humans making marks and considered as an activity of all living organisms, the partitioning of avenues for action.

Thus we can say that textual accounts:

  1. are produced via a coupling with stylus and medium;
  2. are able to be revisited (and re-written); and
  3. serve an accounting function - calenders, science, counting notation.

Contrasting Perspectives

The categories of "language" and "speech" necessitate work which deserves separate sections. For the moment, the constrasting epistemological assumptions of the present perspective with the traditional one will be schematized.

Traditional perspective: warranting of an account by pointing to or denoting evidence that establish it's truth.
"Pointing to" is based on a denotative theory of language - assumes pointing to be its basic function, and therefore that we have an intuitive notion of "point".

"Warranting" refers to a formal decision procedure - the attribution of a closed meaning to that which is denoted.
Emblematic support: an anchoring of the account by indexing meanings, thereby giving the account heuristic support.
"Indexing" is used because to point is to partition, to make a distinction - in this sense "to index" is a human activity, and instead of pointing (which requires a concept of "to point") we postulate that the basic process is that of partitioning.
"Anchoring" then depends on a shared context. When we point we partition and index a meaning ("much more is said than is mentioned"). Accepts open texture and incompleteness. An anchor is a resource - an operation upon, and manipulation of, the constraints of a situation (note - anchor vs. constraints). A resource is a constraint upon which we may operate, although all constraints are implicated in the behavioral output (a continuum of some sort between resource and constraint).

Further elaborations...

To point, from the present perspective, is to index a meaning - it is to index a shared context. When we point to an object we are not implying that the object has a meaning. We are partitioning that object as distinct from its surround. We are saying what it is not at the same time as we are saying what it is.

To "point to" in the sense of "denote" is to attribute a closed meaning to the feature, to establish its truth - to index a meaning is to provide an open-textured analysis, one that does not seek to establish a true reading but a heuristic, temporary, and conditional reading.

Science and Accounts

What questions are raised when we look at the activity of science as the production of accounts? The community of science is sustained by a network which involves as a particularly important component the production of both oral and textual accounts. In this sense science is a subdomain of everyday interactions, with a relatively greater emphasis on textual accounts (it is characterized by a different pattern). The goal of science must be to bring about a different kind, or a particular kind of praxis - a continual, humanizing transformation of the world. The two types of resources, the production of oral and textual accounts, may be used for either control or humanization.

We may thus take the term "science" to be a topicalization for a particular set of activities, taking place under a variety of constraints. As a human activity it has family resemblances to all other domains. Human ingredients present in different proportions that give rise to qualitatively different accounts.

This view changes our posture toward science. It directs our attention away from criteria for demarcating science from other human activities, to an investigation of continuities - articulation of the various means by which we are coupled to the world, the changing nature of these couplings, the relationship between the knower and the known. Considering science as a human activity suggests what we might call a biological model of continuous phenomenon as opposed to an abstracted or rarified model of demarcation.

Philosophers of science have in recent years convincingly demonstrated the situated character of accounts, i.e. how ways of living are tied to the production, and acceptance or rejection, of an account. Hence, the strategy to be taken requires that all assertations be viewed as epistemological and not ontological assertations.

Without going further into these rather complex waters, it may simply be noted that the very activity of constructing accounts of human behavior is itself most problematic. We are but beginning the voyage, and hence we must be continuously critical of both our ship and where we think we are at any time. Too frequently voyagers have thought that they were sailing in the waters of direct experience, when they really seemed to be floating in the waters of their imagined, ideal worlds.

In any order...
How & What
to Read
Cognition Communication Information
"Language" Levels of
Order &
of Science
The Specialness
of Man
Master Reference
The Ishango
Roadsigns Formal Systems

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