Re: About methodology

From: HÃ¥kan Lindgren
Message: 3484
Date: 2000-08-30

I agree with your earlier posts (for example 26.8.) that the methods of mathematics and natural sciences can't be applied to the humanities.
Trying to do humanistic science the way physics and maths are done has, I believe, done a lot of harm. A lot of babies have been thrown out with the bath water. Perhaps the best example is philosophy. Since the 17th century, philosophers had been impressed by the growth of the natural sciences and they believed that philosophy would develop just as impressively if they applied the same methods. But when they started to do this, something unexpected happened. Philosophy didn't thrive, it didn't acquire a greater certainty, instead, it started to shrink. They found that the methods of hard science allowed them to keep less and less of what philosophy used to be. So they started to cut away slice after slice of philosophy, each generation cutting off more, until the analytical and positivist philosophers of the early 20th century arrived at the end. All they had left was that famous table (I don't know what it's called in English; I mean the one that says "p equals q if and only if..." etc.) - which is 100% true and 100% useless for philosophical purposes.
My view is that the scientific method of the hard sciences is a tool - it is not the Truth or the Only Way, it's an intellectual tool that has been developed and refined to answer a special class of questions, but not the questions that a philosopher, a psychologist or a historian wants to ask. We have been so obsessed with the success that this tool has achieved in its proper field that we believe it's the only tool we need. A good humanist should not be without this tool in his toolbox, but he should have many others as well.
Many people in the humanities are jealous of the exactitude that natural science is able to achieve - or they respond by developing a severe inferiority complex. They don't always realize that hard science achieves this exactitude by cutting out just those things that make humanistic science meaningful. If you want to understand an atomic nucleus you cannot use your experience of life, your feelings, your compassion, all those things have to be left outside when you enter your lab. For a psychologist it's the other way round: you can't be a good psychologist without using your experience of how people behave, your feelings and your compassion (I didn't say that a psychologist should always trust his feelings, but he should use them).
But (yeah, here comes the big but, I guess you've been waiting for it; please don't hit the ceiling now) I can't help getting the impression that you started this linguistics vs. hard science debate in an attempt to wriggle out of the demands that should be made on linguistic work (which are different from the demands that are made on physics or on a mathematical proof).
I've been looking at your Proto-Steppe web page while following this discussion. For every numeral, you show us a different mix of languages and reconstructed forms. Why don't you show what all the numerals looked like in all the languages you are referring to? Wouldn't this make it easier to weed out random similarities - and easier to see if all these languages really point to a common origin? Now it looks as if you - for every numeral - have deliberately picked those languages whose words for this numeral happen to resemble each other. You use Etruscan as your evidence for one, two and three, but you avoid the Etruscan word for four. Instead you give us Korean. 
You want us to believe that *kit:u, five, turned into four in IE and six in Uralic? And you're the one talking about Occam's razor. Time for a shave, Glen.
You base your reconstructed Proto-Steppe on your own reconstructed Indo-Tyrrhenian. A reconstructed family based on another reconstructed family ain't worth much in my part of town.
And some things you say are weird -
Inanimate nouns need no ending to mark them as the object since anything inanimate can never be anything other than a passive object to an action anyways, for logical reasons. If there was no accusative ending for inanimate nouns in Proto-Steppe that's fine by me, but when you say that inanimate things can never be anything else than passive objects, I've gotta ask: How about sentences like "The tornado turned that city into a junk yard", "The sun shines", "That music made me remember things that I had forgotten years ago".
"Proof" in such sciences [the humanities] is a matter of opinion only - I don't agree and I don't think you believe this yourself, otherwise you wouldn't spend so much time looking for words that strengthen your theory., as much as anyone else, can become (and are) a specialist of Nivkh. Afterall, "specialist" is in the eye of the beholder.
Hey, then I'm a specialist in Nivkh too! Wow! This way of thinking opens up a lot of possibilities. Maybe I'm a specialist in heart surgery as well!
I'm not saying this to make you stop doing your work. I don't think you can be stopped! And that's a compliment.