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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  The central task of theoretical physics currently is to understand the boundary relationships of quantum mechanics and relativity. In the social sciences, we see social psychologists building on the work cognitive psychologists, and sociologists and economists and political scientists grappling with variously disparate yet related problems with similar yet distinct methods. A core problem in a mature field such as experimental or social psychology is the massive number of findings that cannot easily be organized into coherent relation with one another in a way that permits confident application of those findings to human behavior or relations. Boundary conditions and relations even in this epistemologically consistent world cry out for definition and exploration. In the realm of social philosophies and critical thought, I am not sure the problem is so very different, though the methods and traditions of humanist inquiry have in some respects so little in common with those in the sciences. This very distinction, however, is one of the primary boundary conditions that deserve close consideration. Social and physical scientists are often taken aback by postmodern critiques of the scientific enterprise in part because they are so clearly aware of the limits of the methods they employ. Especially in the social sciences, complex historical processes (with the exception of some economic modeling) are nearly impossible to capture in any rigorous way. Truly complex processes cannot be examined with existing tools; the error-ridden measures of social scientists are such that the meaningful signal is quickly overridden by the noise. Social scientists work by constructing simple models to reduce the complexity to manageable levels. Refining and improving such models, and increasing the range of understanding by increasing the number of tested models, yields useful probabilistic claims. Social scientists become rightly irritated when social philosophy and criticism make empirical claims without attention to existing empirical evidence, or without interest in encouraging tests of eminently

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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The central task of theoretical physics currently is to understand the boundary relationships
of quantum mechanics and relativity. In the social sciences, we see social psychologists
building on the work cognitive psychologists, and sociologists and economists and political
scientists grappling with variously disparate yet related problems with similar yet distinct
methods. A core problem in a mature field such as experimental or social psychology is the
massive number of findings that cannot easily be organized into coherent relation with one
another in a way that permits confident application of those findings to human behavior or
relations. Boundary conditions and relations even in this epistemologically consistent world
cry out for definition and exploration.
In the realm of social philosophies and critical thought, I am not sure the problem is
so very different, though the methods and traditions of humanist inquiry have in some
respects so little in common with those in the sciences. This very distinction, however, is
one of the primary boundary conditions that deserve close consideration. Social and
physical scientists are often taken aback by postmodern critiques of the scientific enterprise
in part because they are so clearly aware of the limits of the methods they employ.
Especially in the social sciences, complex historical processes (with the exception of some
economic modeling) are nearly impossible to capture in any rigorous way. Truly complex
processes cannot be examined with existing tools; the error-ridden measures of social
scientists are such that the meaningful signal is quickly overridden by the noise. Social
scientists work by constructing simple models to reduce the complexity to manageable levels.
Refining and improving such models, and increasing the range of understanding by
increasing the number of tested models, yields useful probabilistic claims. Social scientists
become rightly irritated when social philosophy and criticism make empirical claims without
attention to existing empirical evidence, or without interest in encouraging tests of eminently


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