Re: Whither TRUTH????
Thu, 11 Apr 1996 12:54:15 EST

Jim Mancuso writes:

> Somehow, all of our education in the tradition of our eduction --
>Anglo-Saxon dominated, search for truth, scientific method, etc. -- lead us to
>think of illusions as "untrue." Would we be better off if we took a position
>that ILLUSION refers to the use of a set of constructs in a situation in which
>those constructs are inapplicable. Consider, for example, the phi-phenomenon.
>We use the construct STATIC-MOVING in a situation in whic that construct is not

With this posting, Jim invokes the notion of "utility" to provide a
standard by which we evaluate our claims about the world. I assume that he
means something like "utility for explaining input from our world". I've
always found this idea attractive. I recently viewed a documentary about a
community of people in South America (what some might consider to be a
"primitive" group). Because of contact with Westerners, the community has
sufferred many diseases to which they lack immunity. Such conditions are
conceptualized as the results of spirits which inhabit the body. To
eliminate such conditions, a shaman performs an elaborate ritual to drive
out the spirits.

Now, if we use the notion of utility to evaluate our claims about the
world, we might say that the belief in spirits is a more or less useful way
for these persons to understand the source of what we call illness or
disease -- it provides a way of understanding the conditions and a way of
reacting to them. However, at least from my vantage point, it (and I don't
have evidence here) probably not particularly useful as a means of
eliminating those conditions we call diseases. I don't think that the
concept of spirit is a very useful one for explaining the source of death
due to what we call illness.

Therefore, when we speak of utility, we must always specify, useful for
what (I'm not saying Jim didn't do this, I'm just making the statement).
An explanation may be useful for one purpose (provide a coherent
explanation of death) but not for another (explaining why the person died;
providing a framework to forestall death). And so, some explanations are
better than others. I believe that the concept of illness is a better, more
useful explanation than the concept of spirits in explaining the causes of
death in the Amazon. Even though I acknwledge that data or "facts" are not
autonomous or independent of theoretical presupositions, I must say that
the data of Western science provides a set of constraining conditions that
make the concept of disease preferable to the concept of spirit as a way
of explaining death in the Amazon.

Do my statements contradict a constructivist analysis? Am I getting
too close to empiricism? Thoughts on the subject?

Mike Mascolo
Merrimack College