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C:()MMENTARIES Readers' comments offering substantial theoretical and practical contributions to issues that have been raised in textspublished in Leonardo are welcomed. The Editors reserve the right to edit and shorten letters. Letters should be written in English and sent to the Main EditorialOlJice. COMMENT ON "BEHAVIORISM, CAUSALITY AND CYBERNETICS" Since the statement that no scientist or artist works in a vacuum is taken as a truism in Loeb's article (Leonardo 24, No.3, 299-302,1991), it may be worthwhile to recall as well that no argument exists in a vacuum. Thus, a reminder: a central idea around which this discussion among Loeb, myself [1] and others revolves is the historiographical concept of a Zeitgeist. I have argued, in particular, that to assume that the 'spirits' of art, science and philosophy-indeed, of all intellectual activity-in a given era, period or place should be necessarily related is an epistemologically bankrupt concept . No culture is monolithic. Even the elements and subelements of a culture may be more diverse than alike: the scientists studying optics in a particular period may have a different thematic framework than the one of those dealing with mechanics; sculptors in a specific culture may not be working with the same schema as used by painters; or cytologists at a given time may have a different paradigm than that of evolutionists. Of course, this realization does not inevitably drive the argument to a conclusion that contradicts the (above) truism; rather, it compels the historian to search for real (causal) connections among the elements of a culture that are being studied. Thus, I have no a priori qualms about Loeb asserting that all artists have 'outside influences' or that artists interact with their 'environments'. However, a potential methodological problem does arise when we consider specifics, such as, which 'influence' or which 'environment'?©19911SAST Pergamon Press pic.Printed inGreat Brrtain. 0024-D94Xj91 $3.00+0.00 Now, it is agreed that strict causality (in the study of history, as well as in the sciences in general) is often difficult to confirm-hence the various statistical methods used. Moreover, even when a correlation between two variables is shown to exist, the question of cause and effect may break down if they are part of a feedback loop. In the main part of Loeb's article -and, surely, a most interesting contribution to the discussion-he shows how a feedback model entails a sigmoidal curve for growth. Applying this model to the readership of a periodical (e.g. De Stijl), Loeb makes a convincing case that the model explains how a readership may grow in three stages: an initial slow growth, a middle rise of the rate and a final saturation . That this feedback model is 'simple' goes without saying; of course, virtually all knowledge is based on some manner of model building. (I use the term 'model' very generally, encompassing metaphor as well.) Most important, the link among the individuals in the periodicals example is causal, for they are all readers of the same material. This brings to mind the way in which nonZeitgeist historians usually search for historical connections: they narrow in on the 'influence' and 'environment' by asking "What did he read"? or "Whose works did she look at"? The problem, however, lies in the manner in which Loeb applies the model, for he argues that it "can account for the appearance and disappearance of movements, styles and historical periods such as Renaissance, Baroque and Romantic without recourse to a Zeitgeist concept" (p. 300). Regarding the first part ofthis statement: surely the model does not entirely fit, since the third stage of the model entails a leveling-off; how, therefore, can it account for a 'disappearance '? And Loeb errs again in the last sentence of the article when he speaks of the model accounting for the "rise and decline of styles and movements as well as of different periods in an individual artist's career" (p. 301). In reality, the model seems to account for only two-thirds of the data. But the major problem with Loeb's article surfaces around the larger issue: for his analysis begs the question regarding Zeitgeist historiography . Of course the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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