Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

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Matthew Ellard
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Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Matthew Ellard » Wed Aug 24, 2016 5:43 am

Explaining Science VS describing classical history VS describing pre-history

Zeuzzz is planning to write his theory on psilocybin and human cultural evolution. If he is concerning himself with events from about 3,000 years ago, he is really writing an opinion about history and acting as a historian. He can argue his view using real human artefacts, sculptures and mad made things. If he is concerning himself with five million years ago, he is limited to non-man made physical evidence and probably reverts to being a scientist using the scientific method.

In my mind, a historian and a scientist are two different things in the way they make their arguments.

I was trying to find a article or something that talked about this difference. (I might be wrong). If anyone has an opinion let me know.

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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby bobbo_the_Pragmatist » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:23 am

My immediate thought is that SCIENCE is about predictions: what will happen if I mix A with B?

HISTORY is about the past: what did happen when A and B were mixed?

One forward, the other backward.

One proveable, the other conjecture.

Seems to me, to be as Gould called it: two seperate magisteriums. As such, very different brains, interests, fact fields, satisfactions.

My own thought experiment: lets imagine the imaginer has all the brain power to really excell in a chosen field. Who would choose history over science?

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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Wed Aug 24, 2016 10:26 am

I'm a historian by trade and have worked with a lot of scientists in my day. The two fields of study aren't comparable. Historians deal with events, scientists deal with event horizons. Scientific study only claim results if those results are reproducible. Historians deal with people, so the chaos factor is much higher.
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby OlegTheBatty » Wed Aug 24, 2016 6:58 pm

Gawdzilla Sama wrote:I'm a historian by trade and have worked with a lot of scientists in my day. The two fields of study aren't comparable. Historians deal with events, scientists deal with event horizons. Scientific study only claim results if those results are reproducible. Historians deal with people, so the chaos factor is much higher.

But, it you want to convince other historians that FDR was a reptilian skin-changer, don't you have to produce evidence coupled with rational argument?
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Wed Aug 24, 2016 7:04 pm

OlegTheBatty wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:I'm a historian by trade and have worked with a lot of scientists in my day. The two fields of study aren't comparable. Historians deal with events, scientists deal with event horizons. Scientific study only claim results if those results are reproducible. Historians deal with people, so the chaos factor is much higher.

But, it you want to convince other historians that FDR was a reptilian skin-changer, don't you have to produce evidence coupled with rational argument?
Spoiler:
(You've already convinced gorgeous - see how easy that was.)

That's where Argument from Authority falls through. I am an authority, but that doesn't mean my claims should go unchallenged.
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby OlegTheBatty » Wed Aug 24, 2016 7:13 pm

Gawdzilla Sama wrote:
OlegTheBatty wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote:I'm a historian by trade and have worked with a lot of scientists in my day. The two fields of study aren't comparable. Historians deal with events, scientists deal with event horizons. Scientific study only claim results if those results are reproducible. Historians deal with people, so the chaos factor is much higher.

But, it you want to convince other historians that FDR was a reptilian skin-changer, don't you have to produce evidence coupled with rational argument?
Spoiler:
(You've already convinced gorgeous - see how easy that was.)

That's where Argument from Authority falls through. I am an authority, but that doesn't mean my claims should go unchallenged.

That too.
What I was driving at is that while the nature of the evidence is different, and the process of discovering it is different, there is a fundamental similarity between disciplines.
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Wed Aug 24, 2016 7:15 pm

Testability, yeah. Discovery, sure. Exploding labs, not so much.
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby OlegTheBatty » Wed Aug 24, 2016 7:24 pm

Gawdzilla Sama wrote: Exploding labs, not so much.

You could, though . . . just sayin'
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby scrmbldggs » Thu Aug 25, 2016 1:39 am

You mean when the Spey flows over the inked side of the irreplaceable document?
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Matthew Ellard » Thu Aug 25, 2016 2:39 am

bobbo_the_Pragmatist wrote:Seems to me, to be as Gould called it: two seperate magisteriums.

I found that quote. Sadly it was about science and religion and not science and history research.

I think Gawdzilla gave me a hint, when he used the word "discovery" concerning researching history.

I might discover a medieval letter. As a historian I look at the content of that letter and then,perhaps, modify my view of what historical events and cultural events are going on at the time. However, that letter may be a "one off" and not fit into the framework of all other letters written at the same time, but the letter is still valid history.

I guess that in science "everything has to fit in with everything else" and you can't have "non conforming" things.

Therefore, I can see, a historian and a scientist are two separate sorts of creatures, with very different goals and hurdles to pass. Fair enough.

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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gord » Thu Aug 25, 2016 10:29 am

I've been reading Michael Wood's book In Search of the Trojan War, and something in it led me to the summation of "archaeology is the science of history" -- in other words, history is not a science in and of itself, but the scientific investigation of history is archaeology. I don't think that's a widely held definition of it, though. And FSM forbid I should have a ready quote to offer.
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby scrmbldggs » Thu Aug 25, 2016 4:28 pm

Here's one from 'forensic archaeology', "I don't know what that means" :-P
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:41 pm

Matthew Ellard wrote:

Therefore, I can see, a historian and a scientist are two separate sorts of creatures, with very different goals and hurdles to pass. Fair enough.

Plus there's no {!#%@} math in history.
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:42 pm

Gord wrote:I've been reading Michael Wood's book In Search of the Trojan War, and something in it led me to the summation of "archaeology is the science of history" -- in other words, history is not a science in and of itself, but the scientific investigation of history is archaeology. I don't think that's a widely held definition of it, though. And FSM forbid I should have a ready quote to offer.

When you get into carbon dating and that {!#%@} it's kinda sciency. 8-)
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Thu Aug 25, 2016 5:43 pm

OlegTheBatty wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote: Exploding labs, not so much.

You could, though . . . just sayin'

I was in the room below a lab at Purdue when they blew out the windows. Class let out early. :lol:
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Mary Q Contrary » Thu Aug 25, 2016 11:01 pm

Big difference is that science is experimental. History is not. Historians can look at events and construct a narrative that they believe can explain how we got from the past to the present. But they cannot conduct an experiment by going back in time and changing a variable to see how history plays out from that point. Scientists can change variables and see what happens. In this sense, science has a greater certainty and predictive value than history.

This is not to say that science and history are completely incompatible. Science is an excellent tool that be used by historians because science can be used to disprove a historical narrative but a historical narrative can never be used to disprove science. Here I'm talking more about the physical sciences than the social sciences. The way this plays out is that if there are elements of a historical narrative that conflict with physical science, then we know the historical narrative is wrong. Period. If this happens, the historian must change his historical narrative to fit proven scientific principles. If he does not, then he becomes more of a theologian or mythmaker.

OTOH, as you go back in time and the historical record becomes more and more fragmented, the role of science increases dramatically. When you're talking about prehistory, all you really can use is scientific analysis of physical objects. At that point the historian and the scientist become one.
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Thu Aug 25, 2016 11:31 pm

Mary Q Contrary wrote:Big difference is that science is experimental. History is not. Historians can look at events and construct a narrative that they believe can explain how we got from the past to the present. But they cannot conduct an experiment by going back in time and changing a variable to see how history plays out from that point. Scientists can change variables and see what happens. In this sense, science has a greater certainty and predictive value than history.

This is not to say that science and history are completely incompatible. Science is an excellent tool that be used by historians because science can be used to disprove a historical narrative but a historical narrative can never be used to disprove science. Here I'm talking more about the physical sciences than the social sciences. The way this plays out is that if there are elements of a historical narrative that conflict with physical science, then we know the historical narrative is wrong. Period. If this happens, the historian must change his historical narrative to fit proven scientific principles. If he does not, then he becomes more of a theologian or mythmaker.

OTOH, as you go back in time and the historical record becomes more and more fragmented, the role of science increases dramatically. When you're talking about prehistory, all you really can use is scientific analysis of physical objects. At that point the historian and the scientist become one.

Most history isn't science, I agree, but science can be used to confirm history. You can say that history says what happened, and science explains how it happened. And that has its limited, of course. You have to need science before it's useful, have to have questions that need answers from outside the discipline. I call it "forensic history".
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Thu Aug 25, 2016 11:32 pm

Mary Q Contrary wrote:

OTOH, as you go back in time and the historical record becomes more and more fragmented, the role of science increases dramatically. When you're talking about prehistory, all you really can use is scientific analysis of physical objects. At that point the historian and the scientist become one.

Check out the Homo naledi find in South Africa, it shores up your point nicely, I think.
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Matthew Ellard » Fri Aug 26, 2016 2:45 am

Gawdzilla Sama wrote: Plus there's no {!#%@} math in history.


I'm slowly getting it. I originally studied prehistory ( human evolution). As there was nothing to work with other than bones and environments, I had to study statistics and anatomy.

I think I know where my brain was going wrong....Because humans exist in both "history" and "pre-history" and both disciplines study humans, my brain was telling me these two disciplines were automatically connected.

I now realise they are two totally different skills that simply, both concerned humans.

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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Matthew Ellard » Fri Aug 26, 2016 2:54 am

Gord wrote:I've been reading Michael Wood's book In Search of the Trojan War
My understanding is that there never was a Trojan War. It was really a series of small ongoing raids and the start of the first walled city.

I assume that "Helen" wasn't captured by the Trojans but rather "Hellenic" (Greeks) were expanding into Hittite Anatolia. There are the same Greek "Sea People" raiding the Levant, mentioned by Ramesses

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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gawdzilla Sama » Fri Aug 26, 2016 10:00 am

Matthew Ellard wrote:
Gawdzilla Sama wrote: Plus there's no {!#%@} math in history.


I'm slowly getting it. I originally studied prehistory ( human evolution). As there was nothing to work with other than bones and environments, I had to study statistics and anatomy.

I think I know where my brain was going wrong....Because humans exist in both "history" and "pre-history" and both disciplines study humans, my brain was telling me these two disciplines were automatically connected.

I now realise they are two totally different skills that simply, both concerned humans.

When you talk about the study of prehistorical humans the fields of "hard" science, plus anthropology, and a dash of history would be a good mix. Find bones, determine that they were in the human lineage (or a close cousin), then the anthropologists examine the bones in context to try and tell us how they lived, and the historians try to help fill in the gaps with their own battery of "tools".
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Re: Applying the scientific method to prehistory theories

Postby Gord » Sat Aug 27, 2016 5:10 am

Matthew Ellard wrote:
Gord wrote:I've been reading Michael Wood's book In Search of the Trojan War

My understanding is that there never was a Trojan War. It was really a series of small ongoing raids and the start of the first walled city.

Troy wasn't early enough to have been the first walled city. Uruk was at its height in the 4th millennium BC. Jericho had walls by the 8th millennium BC. The first city on the site we call Troy wasn't founded until the 3rd millennium BC.

Meanwhile: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troy_VII

...The city of the archaeological layer known as Troy VIIa, which has been dated on the basis of pottery styles to the mid- to late-13th century BC, lasted for about a century, with a destruction layer at c. 1190 BC. It is the most often-cited candidate for the Troy of Homer and is believed to correspond to Wilusa, known from Hittite sources dating to the period of roughly 1300–1250 BC.

These dates correspond closely to the mythical chronology of Greece as calculated by classical authors, placing the construction of the walls of Troy by Poseidon, Apollo and Aeacus at 1282 BC and the sack of Troy by the Greeks at 1183 BC.

Troy VIIa appears to have been destroyed by a war, perhaps the source of the legendary Trojan War, and there are traces of a fire. Partial human remains were found in houses and in the streets, and near the north-western ramparts a human skeleton with skull injuries and a broken jawbone. Three bronze arrowheads were found, two in the fort and one in the city. However, only small portions of the city have been excavated, and the finds are too scarce to clearly favour destruction by war over a natural disaster....

And the history wiz at historywiz: http://www.historywiz.com/trojanwar.htm

Was there a Trojan War? The short answer is "probably."

(Maybe not the greatest of websites, but I think that sums it up.)
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