Stuart Umpleby: Social Sciences Differ from Physical Sciences

Stuart Umpleby
Stuart Umpleby

Here is a fragment from a listserve that is related to reflexivity.  It explains how social science is different from physical science.  Assuming that an approach developed for physical systems can also be used for social systems will miss a key feature of social systems.

Very interesting paper on application of science to agriculture, in which the authors come up with this very interesting notion of ‘systemic science’:

“A systemic science is a science that influences its own subject area.”

This explicitly tackles the challenge thrown down by Michel Foucault concerning the human sciences, for which the problematic was that their object of study (say the human mind) was at the same time their subject (us humans studying that object of study).  The application to agricultural is very clear, succinct and makes very good sense of such a systemic science.  Don’t know the authors and haven’t come across any of their previous work. The paper is longish but very readable:

PDF 31 Pages: ‘Towards a systemic research methodology in agriculture: Rethinking the role of values in science’.

Hugo Fjelsted Alrøe and Erik Steen Kristensen

Further explanation of this notion of ‘systemic science’:

“Generally, all the so-called human, social and cultural sciences are systemic, because persons and social systems have some ability to react to what science says. And furthermore all technological or ‘developmental’ sciences are systemic, because they influence the evolutionary course of the world. One might object, as an anonymous reviewer did, that the term ‘systemic science’ seems to be too general to be of much use. Indeed, taken as a whole, science must be characterised as systemic – science influences the world that it studies. But, firstly, there are special sciences that are destined (cosmology and pure historical sciences) or determined (classical observational sciences) not to influence their subject area. And secondly, the concept is intended more as an eye opener than as a practical way of categorising sciences. When taking this perspective and recognising some science as systemic, one is led to reflect upon the interactions between science and the world. Sciences that are recognised as systemic from without are not necessarily self-reflexively aware of their systemic nature. But describing them as systemic may lead to such reflection. In the following, the terms ‘systemic science’ and ‘systemic research’ will mainly be designating science that has some insight in its own systemic character. These terms differ from ‘applied science’ in that they do not share the conception of a clear separation and linear relation between basic and applied sciences (see further below.”

Phi Beta Iota:  Physical Sciences, in attempting to care the scientific method to an extreme, and in being oblivious to their depth and breadth of ignorance, have lost sight of human values and the relational values as opposed to the static values.  This is the primary point made in Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, restated in another way, “Why the sciences need the humanitiers” in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.  Without getting into a debate on whether God exists, or extra-terrestials, or intra-terrestial intelligence within plants and animals, the raw fact is that the physical and social sciences are both fragmented and therefore ignorant.  We have a very long way to go before we achieve holistic understanding, and we must start by recognizing that values are an intangible that cannot be ignored.