Page 209 - MODES of EXPLANATION

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the job. So the commensurate treatment across those cultures is remarkable. The very
processes whereby literary nuance is expressed are linked comfortably to the mathematical
devices used in scientific models. There is a startling unity across humanities and science.
While practitioners in both cultures often see themselves as respectively relatively separate,
both the humanities and the mathematician work in deeply abstract spaces. There is a parallel
creativity in both fields, although the terminology describing it is different.
George Bernard
Shaw once said: “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.”
The humanities and sciences are perhaps divided by common practice, with different labels.
Commensurate Experience
In the end, the bottom line in science is narrative. Models play their role in improving
narratives. We can again use the Zellmer loops to deliver that bottom line. When George Box
said “All models are wrong, but some are useful,” the corollary is that all assumptions are
false. When physics insists on closed systems, close to equilibrium, those assumptions are
false. It is just that physics can get away with the lie. In biology, closure and equilibrium are
false too, but the difference is that in biology we simply cannot get away with those
assumptions. Science is not about truth, but it is about finding which lies we can agree to get
away with.
Predictions are often taken as an indication that we are close to reality. In fact, truth is
not the issue, but rather that our narratives become more convincing. The power of a
compelling narrative is not that it is true. “True narrative” is an oxymoron anyway. The
bottom line is that good stories bring about commensurate experience. With commensurate
experience we can take advantage of the wisdom of crowds. The US Navy had lost the
submarine
Scropion
in a cylinder of water 20 miles wide and 1000 feet deep. It collected
opinions from informed experts as to where the vessel might be. Although no one estimate
was close, a Bayesian analysis of all the guesses was only 220 yards from the location of the
vessel (Surowiecki, 2005).
If there are different stakeholders addressing some issue like a failing fishery, each
will have their own model. The starting dates of each narrative will be different. The
ecologist will go back to the Native Americans crossing the Bering Straits. Native Americans
might start their narraitive with the EuroAmerican invasion. The toxicologist might become
interested in the period just before the chemical firms who pay them started releasing so-
called new chemicals into the waters. The fisheries manager will go back just to the
beginning of the decline in question. Native Americans may look to a cause associated with
disrepect toward the Great Spirit. The ecologist might look to dams or chemical pollutants,
while the fisheries manager might focus on recent over-fishing. They all have different
models, and accordingly will invoke different essences. But since they all address the same
species and waters, there will be some overlap in the essences (Figure 14.11).
[insert Figure 11]
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