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Re: [xmca] Deb Roy: The birth of a word Discussion

On Mar 20, 2011, at 6:25 AM, vwilk wrote:

> This clip from a hand held camera somehow got onto national no, international, TV and had NO funding.  Research that can be done from that short clip! If you add up the clips and put them together,with a narrative idea and this digitized material, both from the sky and the ground, everything that happened here, even if we can't get a complete picture of it, it is logged, filed, and searchable. 


I think this is an excellent point, and it brings out another aspect of Roy's research that to me is problematic. In 1931 Kurt Lewin published an article that remains relevant today, in which he pointed out that in psychology, concept and explanation remain equivalent to that of Aristotelian physics. He argues for a new approach in psychology that would be like Galileian physics. Lewin points out several similarities between psychology and the type of explanation sought by Aristotelians, but a central one is that for the latter, explanation is possible only for events that are regular and repeatable. The cosmos was perfect and lawlike, remember, while events on earth were irregular, unpredictable, and consequently outside the scope of science. Aristotelian psychology, of course, deals with earthly events, but it still tends to confuse explaining a phenomenon with demonstrating that is regular. A unique event cannot be explained. For a Galileian, in contrast, it is obvious that all events are lawlike, and scientific laws will be seen at work even in a unique event. A single event can not only be studied scientifically, and it not only can be explained, it can provide a valuable window into explanatory processes.

Roy has studied a single case, it is true, that of his son. But his approach to this case has been thoroughly Aristotelian: he has collected large quantities of data in order to be able to find the repeatable regularities in his son's speech. But the Galileian approach would acknowledge that  the processes of language acquisition must be operating in every single speech event, whether it is repeated or not. A short video clip - if it is of the right kind of phenomenon (a black swan; a prototypical event) - can be just as valuable and valid in what it shows us as ten thousand hours of video. If not more so. 

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