Re: Is vs. Ought (was: A Physicist Experiments With CulturalStudies)
Fri, 26 Nov 1999 10:03:28 EST

In a message dated 99-11-23 17:04:00 EST, (Robert J. Bradbury) wrote:

> While history & politics could be subject to "rigorous science" using
> computer technology and/or simulations, I question whether law, or art
> could be.
> It is said that the historians, "write" history and that seems true.
> However, in the face of future "perfect" records of history, that becomes
> false.

I think this is certainly true. The study of history is, of course, the study of records from the past. About some periods we have copious records, about others, almost none. I often think about the info-glut that will face historians of our period. People (or whatever) will certainly want to know what happened in our time, but likely most people won't be able to devote the time and resources that will be required to sift through the original documents. Thus:

> Presumably, there is some
> review process by which those individuals who "accurately" condense
> the information become recognized as authorities.

It seems this will be more true than ever with the huge amounts of information available to historians of ours and future eras. It is possible even for a well-read amateur to master the main corpus of important source documents for, say, key periods of classical Greek and Roman history - I've read much of that body of literature myself. But imagine what would be considered to be the "important" literature from the 20th century even, much less the 21st! Even the important 18th century is really beyond the ability of an amateur to master: We have to depend on the selections - and therefore the interpretations -- of professional historians.

And, of course, there IS a process by which accurate condensers and interpreters come to be seen as expert and reliable, and it is essentially the same as that employed in the hard sciences: Peer review over time. 1800 years of critical review have shown Suetonius to have been largely accurate - if a little overdramatic in some places.

> In the face of specific and exact records of history and the
> ability to process all the information, the interpretations of the
> historians become much less significant.

I don't think so. The very selection process required by the larger body of primary source material will make it correspondingly more important to have reliable interpreters of data.

> The chaos effects
> (mentioned by Damien) limits the accuracy of these in interpretations
> but that is where simulations might provide missing data. With
> abstract models of the human mind, historians could create "simulated"
> Hitlers or Sadaams with various mental prioritizations. Those that result
> in the reality we have documented would be presumed to be the most
> explanatory.

I often think about this as an interesting possibility for historians in a future with powerful AI. It also provides the basis for an interesting science fiction plot - imagine an academic "Hitler simulator" that manages to escape the boundaries of his simulated environment!

> Now, law and art may be much less tractable.
> Law seems to have highly specific historical, cultural, technological
> (e.g. evidence) and scientific (e.g. "expert" witnesses) aspects.
> The variety of chaotic variables may put it beyond "rigorous science"
> (though it may be entirely rational) and perhaps force it into the realm
> of limited simulations.

This is already being done, as you say, to a limited extent. There is a growing industry supporting the provision of "mock trials" in which legal conflict is simulated under more or less rigorous circumstances.

> Greg/Natasha, if you read this -- have/should Law & Art be subject to
> some absolutes (akin say to the Hippocratic Oath in medicine) or have
> they become (and/or will they continue to be) subject to the
> whims or desires of the client/purchaser? (i.e. a system in
> which the value is market driven rather than "rationale acceptance"
> driven?)

There is certainly an analog of the Hippocratic Oath in the practice of law in the Anglo-American system, that being the ethics codes propounded by the various bar associations and regulatory agencies. The specific code governing my own professional conduct, along with its interpreting commentary and case law, fills a large bookshelf. The subject is of such vital importance that large firms such as mine have specialists in the understanding and application of the professional ethics laws who are consulted in the almost daily instances in which issues arise concerning the ethical practice of law.

In terms of your question, I see the function of such ethical codes as being partially market-driven in that purchasers of legal service have to be at least minimally satisfied with the systemic logic imposed by the meta-ethics of professional conduct, or they will buy their legal services elsewhere. Of course, the market is far, far from perfect because we operate in a series of only partially overlapping state-sponsored monopolies.

      Greg Burch     <>----<>
      Attorney  :::  Vice President, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know 
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another    
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                             -- Desmond Morris