Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Archaeology, Sherlock Holmes and Metacognition

I'm going to take another class in archeology, which means I am probably taking a class with an instructor who learned basic logic watching reruns of Sherlock Holmes movies.

Sherlock Holmes rarely used deduction.  Holmes used abduction based on induction.

Lets take a common scene.  Super detective notices a man with some specific details, for Holmes in the 1890s this could mean what appears to be drips of wax on his coat cuff, shaggy, uncut hair, a hat that appears to need brushing.  Notice "appears".  We can't make absolute statements based on simple observation.  What looks like wax probably is wax, but, might be something else.  Holmes "deduces" that the man is unmarried because no self respecting wife would allow her husband to leave the house in such a state.

First, this is induction because it moves from the specific to the general.

Second, this is abduction because the conclusion uses an unproved hypothesis as the basis for the conclusion.  There is no evidence that wives actually care about their husbands or that caring for a husband means grooming them or that men are incapable of grooming themselves.

Because fiction refers to this process of "abduction" as "deduction" most people can't tell a fact from bullshit.

Anthropology and Sociology are primarily deductive meaning, typically, the study moves from the general to the specific.  We want to understand a community so we study the community and then we study individuals within the community.

Deduction always results in a fact.  Induction always results in a probability.  Abduction is speculation, which is why we generally don't discuss abduction in science, except in the context of fiction like the super detectives on television.

This is not to say that an Anthropological or Sociological study will always result in a fact, just that anthropology and sociology can develop facts.

Archeology is necessarily inductive.  Archeology examines something specific, an artifact, and induces probabilities about that object based on studies of community.

Archeology also  uses a lot of abduction or speculation based on probabilities theories.

Reading books by Dillehay, Meltzer and Adovasio and their focus on how their abductive inferences are "true" is a hilarious ride through egotistical and logical stupidity.

Not looking forward to trying to deal with this stupid bullshit.  They call themselves archaeostars!  Adovasio does anyway.

Fortunately, there has been some common sense and logic injected into the process and the application of archaeological theory is called "archaeological inference", meaning that the application of archaeological theory to specific artifacts creates inferences, not facts.

This is different from the application of scientific analysis of artifacts which produces probabilities, like age and specifics like composition or DNA analysis.

These facts about an artifact are collected.  Archaeological theory is applied and abductive inferences about the artifact are developed.  Supposedly archaeologists know that these are not facts, they are inferences, but, reading the egotistical arguments in Dillehay, Meltzer and Adovasio tells me that these people actually believe their inferences should be accepted as "fact" or "truth" or "reality".

It makes me want to puke.

But, at least there is a semi reasonable process we can call kind of scientific.  Not that I expect any archaeologist I meet to actually understand the difference between reality and speculation.

Thus, metacognition or knowing the difference between knowing what we know, what we believe and the difference between knowing and believing.

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