Thursday, June 11, 2009

Social Science and Other Black Magic

While having dinner with some colleagues yesterday, I was told that theorists should "at least try to measure something." Why? Well, in order to be in touch with the real world of course. I didn't quite know how to respond to this statement. Even now, I am still quite confused as to what measuring things has to do with one's level of contact with the real world. This seems to suggest a few things to me. First, social scientists perceive themselves to be apart from the real world. That is, they must measure things from their distant vantage point in order to have some sense of connection to the real world. I often wonder where this alleged real world is located if it is not the one I find myself living in every day. Second, for some reason this colleague of mine thinks that measuring things makes them somehow more real. Thus, Shakespeare talking about love, jealousy, and madness is somehow less real than the social scientist out there measuring these same things. How is it that a concrete discussion of lived experience is not seen as being as real as an abstract quantification of the same experience? Third, there seems to be some notion that everyone ought to be doing the same the thing. Should literary critics be measuring things? Should poets be measuring things? Should philosophers be measuring things? Whether or not one agrees with the assumptions of positivist social science should have no bearing on the fact that different people are carrying out different tasks with very different goals in mind. These are just a few of the things that have come to mind while reflecting on the conversation. Any thoughts?


Blogger la gloria, la gloria, la gloria said...

Measuring my D*** never gave me much of a better outlook in life. In life. That's the thing...not my thing of course. But, something to be reckoned with. Measuring things has just gotten us into trouble, in some kind of a Keirkegaardian sense. Measuring is money. Money...well, we know.

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It appears to me, and I could be wrong, that by questioning whether or not one should be measuring things you are in fact trying to quantify (or qualify) the situation through a quasi-measure of questioning.

Welcome to the world of academia.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If there is no measuring, then everything is left in a murky, incoherent soup. There are, however, more than one way to measure things. Qualities can be measured, but not in the same way as quantities. But it's important to be open to the possibility that many things are incommensurable, strictly speaking. You should read what Aristotle says about measurement. It's pretty persuasive

7:34 PM  
Anonymous paul ferland said...

.Quantum Probability & the Measurement Problem
Quantum physics is defined mathematically by the Schroedinger equation, which depicts the probability of a particle being found at a certain point. This probability is fundamental to the system, not merely a result of ignorance. Once a measurement is made, however, you have a definite result.
The measurement problem is that the theory doesn't completely explain how the act of measurement actually causes this change. Attempts to solve the problem have lead to some intriguing theories.

The only time sometime show up is when it's measured, otherwise it disperses into infinity..mmm
Look up the string theory and the theory that the universe is really a hologram, based on quantum physics..weird shit!

7:13 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home