Cycles of history: epistemologically suspect?

Reilly Jones (
Mon, 16 Jun 1997 21:05:49 -0400

Carl Feynman wrote 6/16/97: <Here's a cyclical theory that is suffciently=

precise to be disproved: the rate of growth of the French population has
oscillated from psotive to negative with a 47-year period since the twelf=
century. I just made this theory up, and it's probably false. But it's
hardly vacuous.>

Who cares if it can be disproven? Can it be proven? That is, what will
really happen next? Why start in the twelth century? Will the
twenty-first century be exactly like the twelfth through twentieth
centuries, or will it be like the centuries before the twelfth, or will i=
be novel? What does such a theory say about the causal factors? Will
these causal factors continue to be present in the future? A theory abse=
the actual causal factors is, for epistemological purposes,
indistinguishable from magical incantations.

Carl's analogy: <But geography is continuous, one kilometer after another=
no one kilometer any different than any other kilometer, every kilometer =
equal length. No kilometer is to be given a privileged position when
starting a cyclical analysis. There is no "basin/range alternation"
identifiable anywhere except in relation to yourself and yourself alone. =

To arbitrarily assert otherwise is to commit a category error in analysis=

Personally, I try to avoid making spatial analogies of temporal events. =

Space and time are essentially separate concepts and crossover analogies
generally don't work very well. Geography is essentially fixed in time,
very discrete when it is used in historical studies. You can find "Franc=
on a map, you can't find a "French generation" anywhere. Perhaps geology=

would be a better analogy, but then it falls apart, because where do you
start in geology looking for historical cycles? Even if you can find
geological cycles, geologists tend not to bother about rocks' properties =
intentionality, creativity, free will and the like, such as humans who ma=
history are endowed with. The idea of human creativity being historicall=
cyclical is a self-refuting concept.

Carl: <A generation is a theoretical concept used by people who try to
history. I don't see why it's a category error to construct such a
concept, and then argue that it provides a correct theory. What two
categories are you claiming to have been confused in this case?>

There's nothing wrong with the concept of a generation, since it's been
around since at least the first set of siblings. But when you try to
explain history, errors creep in because picking what year any given
generation starts is utterly arbitrary, unless you are discussing one
single family, in which case you can be fairly specific. This is what
Damien Sullivan is getting at when he says "belief in historical cycles m=
derive from apparent local patterns." The local pattern is always yourse=
and your family, but as you spread out from there, across cultures and
geography to encompass the whole world, any explanatory power of past
events or prediction abilities for future events become diluted to
insignificance. I am in no way denigrating the proven ability of
demographics to predict certain local tendencies, but demographics used t=
forecast world historical events using some variety of recurrent cycles i=
exceptionally dicey.

Reilly Jones | Philosophy of Technology: | The rational, moral and political relations=

| between 'How we create' and 'Why we create'=