Oops!!! The last posting was one of Elaine's responses in our e-mail
exchange, not the summary of Bruce's paper. Here is the e-mail I meant
I thought some on this list might like to see an e-mail that was
originally addressed to Elaine Morgan and Marc Verhaegen who are the
leading proponents of a revolutionary hypothesis in the field of
paleoanthropology that some call the Aquatic Ape Theory. They are
clearly outsiders in this field and have experienced first hand many of
the things that Bruce Edmonds was describing in the paper he posted here
a few days ago for our comments and suggestions.
You may also be interested to learn that both Elaine and Marc say that
my summary of Bruce's thesis generally reflects their experience and
perception of the process of change that is now taking place with the
models of human evolution that scientists have traditionally used in the
attached mail follows:
Marc, Elaine and Bruce:
In response to the difficulty Marc said he had in interpreting the abstract
notions in Bruce's paper, I offered to try to summarize it in the context of
the gradual acceptance, over the past 40 years, of the aquatic ape theory.
I'm sending this e-mail to Bruce because he may wish to expand, correct or
modify my attempt to summarize and simplify his ideas.
In his paper, Bruce is talking about what Robert Rosen called the "modeling
relation." It has to do with the mental and symbolic models we create to
help us understand the world around us. He calls these "formal systems."
They differ from the phenomena they attempt to replicate in that they are
non physical representations of the mostly physical things and events that
make up the macro and micro universe.
Formal systems also depend on underlying assumptions and rules that come
from various forms of logic and mathematics. Again, these assumptions and
rules are suppose to be in sync with the ways that various physical
phenomena behave. Thus they should help us construct models of the real
world we need to understand and deal with.
Formal systems are used by scientists in quantum and macro physics,
chemistry, biology, etc. in what we sometimes call the "hard" sciences.
Bruce points out that we can come to these models in two fundamental ways.
First, a scientist can dream up a model that he thinks describes the
phenomena he is interested in and then he and/or others can test it in the
real physical world to see if it is accurate and successfully predicts
behavior or outcomes.
The second way to build these non physical models is to gather empirical
data and then build up a formal description from this data. In reality,
most scientists use both methods in a circular feedback process to develop
Bruce then offers some thoughts about the evolution of models in the
scientific context. He states that most scientists are engaged in working
within the context of generally accepted models. And he says that most
scientists depend on others to provide related information and sub-models
that they use to validate existing theoretical models and/or extend them in
the area of their specialty. He refers to this as "normal science."
On the other hand, what he calls "revolutionary science" usually transcends
the existing models. He says it can come from two general sources: first,
a new model can come from scientists doing normal science. In this
scenario, usually the revolutionary ideas are tolerated by the community of
scientists doing normal science. Science communities that tolerate new
ideas are generally very confident of themselves and their work. They find
it easy to admit the limits and uncertainties of their theories and
However, in those fields where the community lacks confidence and tolerance
of new ideas, more often than not the revolutionary ideas must come from
outsiders. Generally, the individuals in these scientific communities build
their models more on hypothetical assumptions rather than empirical
Relatively speaking, fields like economics, cultural anthropology and
paleontology might be classified as being more dependent on a priori
assumptions as opposed to physical testing and verification. Thus,
according to Bruce's thesis, we might expect them to be less tolerant of
revolutionary ideas. As a consequence, we would expect to see the
revolutionary science in these fields come from outsiders.
Paleoanthropology is a classic case in point. As we have seen, in the
course of normal science within this community, work has for years ignored
or misinterpreted an ever expanding array of evidence that points to the
weaknesses of the established savanna assumptions and models. Hence,
according to Bruce's observations, any revolutionary changes in these
assumptions and models are more likely to come from outsiders.
By the same token, you and Elaine have experienced first hand that until
recently within the paleoanthropology community there has been almost no
tolerance of the aquatic ape theory. What's more, if Bruce's ideas are on
target, it should be no surprise at all that there has been great resistance
from within this particular scientific community to any such revolutionary
Finally, I think it is remarkable that you and Elaine have stuck to a number
of principals in your exchanges with others interested in human evolution.
These principals closely parallel the list of signs that Bruce sets forth at
the end of his paper to help us distinguish between a formal system that is
justified in terms of its usefulness and one that may not be justified. I
repeat his list of signs here:
The lack of empirically verified foundations – the fact that its basis
could have been invented in a “philosophers armchair” without detailed
justification in terms of observations or known facts from the problem
domain or phenomena;
The fact that it is verified only against highly abstract and
artificial “toy” problems, rather than against real data or a real problem;
That the application to real problem domains (i.e. the final
verification of a model chain as described above) are left for “future
research” or simply dismissed as “scaling problems”;
The emphasis on purely descriptive formal virtues and the lack of any
pragmatic justification of formalism systems or substantial theories;
The conflation of an idealized problem domain with a real one, without
explicit recognition of the difficulties of bridging the gap;
The lack of explicit exhibition of the disadvantages of a system to
balance its claimed advantages, especially when the key advantage is
Marc Verhaegen wrote:
> Hi Norm, nice to hear from you? how are you?
> Norm, I'm afraid this stuff is much too abstract for me. Very difficult!
Posting to email@example.com from "Norman K. McPhail" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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