C-62. Paradigm spillover

When we tipped over Comte’s pyramid (App. XI), changing our focus from observers to observed, and our perspective from ahistorical to historical, some of the ways in which we have been conducting ourselves as professional observers (e.g., “social scientists”) can – and should – be seen in a better light. (We could speak of this discussion as “Flawed Agenda III” It is that!)

The spillover effect is vividly apparent in the approval-seeking adoption of observer practices from physics and chemistry by those trying to understand contingent emergent materiality (CEM) as it has come about in the domains which we should be talking about as sciences of the possible. (More accurately as arts and sciences of the possible and materials art and materials science: see App. VIII: HAS).

(Their reward for their efforts is that these approval-seekers are deemed by fellow academics to be inferior. Should we invoke the Mikado? The irony is that the sciences of the possible are harder – and made all the more difficult by adopting these ahistorical practices.)

Consider the ubiquitous practice of correlating conditions rendered as “variables” in terms of objects possessing measurable attributes (e.g., “persons who”). The general expression of functionality therein is: y = f(x). And this is supposed to serve, to represent our history of development – of needed functionality, developed functionality and achieved functionality? What it does is to characterize functionality after the fact rather than explain functionality before the fact when we desperately need to be trying to solve our problems?

As employed in the recipes of question-based research (XII: in neglect of the Q=>A x P=>S interdependency [XI]), the results of a correlational analysis (their actuarial utility for decision making excepted) should be better seen as a screening for functionality rather than a demonstration of (some degree of) the order of things. For functionality to be fully understood, we should have to be able to interpret every cell of a cross-tabulation (C-17).

The “y = f(x)” representation homogenizes everything as variables. It’s Procrustean. It’s the kind of thinking about behavior as circumstantial change (II) that sees conditions in “what-what” terms – courtesy of communication’s capability to objectify anything. It sees a simple (albeit “error” plagued) causal picture: There is need (or want) and there is goal – and “whatever it takes” in between. This instead of “all that it takes” (II): from needed functionality to developed functionality to achieved functionality (App. XIII). As if effort equaled effectiveness.

And as if effects were ever going to tell us enough about effectiveness. Continued studies of effects for available practices are not going to tell us enough about consequentiality, materiality, possibility … about functionalism for us to optimally improve effectiveness. As though research then development could be all that productive without development then research: a science detached from art. As if science was not itself dependent on compositional capability.

It’s the kind of thinking that has some observers still talking about cognizing as a mechanics of association or connection relationships (the combinatorial early history of CEM) rather than one of relating asymmetric relations for composing capability (the recent and future history of CEM). It’s the kind of limited thinking that impelled biologists to raise the behavioral questions of “What for?” and “How come?” It’s the kind of thinking that doesn’t settle for using “structure = function” as leverage for entity identification (when it is applicable) … it wants to hang on to this vestige of an order of things even when contraindicated in biology and then in composition – when the interdependence (XI: S F) of structure and function become obvious. It’s the kind of thinking that stimulates the current electronic mapping by physiologists of functionally unexplicated chunks (aka stones) of behavior. It’s the kind of thinking that confuses “partial determination,” an apologetic notion, with partial order – a very evident condition.

CEM is a thematic thread that runs throughout the domains of observation. The ahistorical observer’s biased mode of observing falters when called upon to describe behavior completely and accurately. CEM shows us an open frontier – and offers us a new agenda for exploring there. If we turn around and face forward (C-58).

(c) 2012 R.F. Carter