Occasional thoughts and deeds of an Engineer
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  • How We Live

    Posted on August 20th, 2019 cwmoore No comments

    I do not support this Idea and it is here just as a reminder to myself so as not to forget.


    Boas was trained as a physicist. His student work was in psychophysics, the science that measures things like sensory thresholds, and his dissertation was an effort to determine the degree to which light must increase in intensity for people to perceive a change in the color of water. This might seem an utterly sterile topic for research, but Boas reached an unorthodox conclusion: it depends. Our perception of color is a function of circumstances. Different observers have different perceptions depending on their expectations and experiences, and those differences are not innate. They are, consciously or unconsciously, learned. It made no sense, Boas decided, to talk about a general law of sensory thresholds.

    It’s an academic adage that a scholar’s career consists of footnotes to the dissertation, and, in a way, this was true for Boas. He was an empiricist: he collected facts, and he was not inclined to theoretical speculation. But he thought that the basic fact about human beings is that the facts about them change, because circumstances change. Our lives may be determined, by some combination of genes, environment, and culture, but they are not predetermined.

    Boas’s revolutionary work was a study, undertaken for a congressional committee and published in 1911, on the bodily form—head size, height, hair color, age at pubescence—of the children of recent European immigrants. The impetus was public anxiety that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe would, through intermarriage, dilute the racial stock (sometimes identified as “Nordic”). Boas’s finding, which was that the cranial index of children born in America differed from that of children of the same background born in Europe, rocked the field. It upset long-believed claims that racial differences, including what we would now call ethnic differences, are immutable. The evidence proved, Boas said, “the plasticity of human types.” It also showed that variations within groups are greater than variations between groups.

    In 1911, this was not what most white scientists and politicians wanted to hear. Boas’s career spanned an exceptionally active period of Aryan supremacy. Boas witnessed the legalization of Jim Crow; the widespread acceptance of social Darwinism and eugenics; imperial expansion, including the American occupation of the Philippines; drastic restrictions on immigration; the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan; and the coming to power of Adolf Hitler. (Boas was Jewish.) Often, science was invoked as a justification for colonization, segregation, discrimination, exclusion, sterilization, or extermination. Boas devoted his life to showing people that the science they were relying on was bad science. “He believed the world must be made safe for differences,” Ruth Benedict wrote when Boas died. END QUOTE.


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