NETSOL: New Trends in Social and Liberal Sciences
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Is Modernity a Third Axial Age?
Ken Baskin and Dmitri M. Bondarenko
In the book where he coined the term “Axial Age”, Karl Jaspers noted that human history included both “tranquil ages” and “ages of change”. This paper begins with the observation that this oscillation between stable and transformational periods encapsulates the pattern in complexity theory by which systems oscillate between relatively long “stable states” and shorter “phase transitions”. Applying this pattern, the coauthors speculate that human history has undergone three such “axial” phase transitions – the Neolithic Revolution, the Axial Age, and Modernity. During each of these periods, the older dominant social structures proved inadequate, as populations grew, new technologies appeared, and new social conflicts became more intense. To meet these challenges, people in the societies where these transformations occurred became more innovative, exploring new ways to use recently developed technologies and introducing a variety of social experiments. By the end of these ages of change, new social structures would become dominant across Eurasia. Today, Modernity, as the third axial age, seems to be coming to an end, making this pattern a valuable tool for understanding our world.
Is the World Chaos, a Machine, or Evolving Complexity? How Well Can We Understand Life and World Affairs?
Walter C. Clemens, Jr., and Stuart A. Kauffman
Chaos, machine, or evolving complexity? The butterfly effect suggests a world in chaos—with linkages so random or nuanced that just to measure or pre-state them is virtually impossible. To predict how they will interact is even less feasible. Thanks to “adjacent possibles” and the contradictory impulses of human behavior, much of our world appears to move in random spasms. Every new technology and policy outcome creates opportunities to push society in new and often unforeseen directions, driven by human agents who may introduce crucial but unpredictable goals, strategies, and actions. Against this view, complexity science seeks to identify patterns in interactive relationships. Many patterns can be plotted and, in some cases, foreseen. A comparison of political entities across the globe points to certain factors conducing to societal fitness. Analysis of states that have declined in fitness suggests why their strengths turned to weaknesses. A survey of societies that were relatively democratic points to several factors that contributed to their acquiring authoritarian regimes. Scientists and scholars can unveil some elements of order but should strive to do so without hubris. Wise policymakers will strive to channel both the “actuals” and “adjacent possibles” that then arise toward constructive futures.
Eat to Live or Live to Eat: Metaphor and Truth
Does the act of eating literally precede the birth of language as metaphor for knowing the truth? Can we think of a language that talks about food without thinking of food as the basis of human languages? Is there a truth to eating outside the discourse of language as the idealized representation of the human condition? Are we ever thinking of anything apart from food? Or, are we thinking at all when we are not thinking of eating? If the structure of our thinking is about food, to think of something other than food is to turn language into a shibboleth without a material basis to it. To think of eating in opposition to thinking where you do not have to talk about eating is to privilege the mind over the body. Food is the substructure to the superstructure of thought; to eat is to take arms against a sea of ideals; more importantly, it is to root our understanding of metaphor within a politics of eating; it is to look for truth in whether someone has eaten or not eaten playing a determining role in the formation of ideas about the world. Writing and popular culture have one thing in common which is that they must balance the demands that eating will make in the assertion of one’s humanity with the ideas about humanity that perhaps have little to do with the activity of eating. This paper argues that in the acknowledgment of eating as central to any notion of the truth, we make food interchangeable with how we ingest a metaphor so much so that we are left wondering why there are people who go to sleep on empty stomachs!
The Essential Contributions of Corpora in Language Research
A major, overriding outcome of the organic complexity of language, which legitimizes the rival claims inherent in its description, is the empiricist/rationalist “paradigm war” over sources of language data. While rationalists advance the pervasiveness of competence and, by extension, the reliability of introspective methodology as compared to the “skewed” performance data, empiricist accounts treat naturally occurring language not only as dependable but amenable to a wider scope of investigation as well. However, the inception of Corpus Linguistics as a definable approach in the 1980s marked the start of a new exploratory potential that surpassed and identified drawbacks in the then-popular Chomsky’s linguistics. A corpus-based approach to language study markedly differs from their ‘rivals’, not only as the former employs a set of identifiable research methods but, most importantly, as using a corpus allows for a breadth of coverage that renders possible addressing frequency–based questions. This property enables both the objective verification of introspection-based assumptions and an ongoing reappraisal of existing descriptions. This paper probes the nature of corpus linguistics as a methodology to language study by elaborating on core tenets of corpus-based approach, and by assessing repercussions of the breadth-of-coverage property on a variety of language-related areas to examine what insights and contributions corpora may bring in each.
Book Review: Cem Emrence. Remapping the Ottoman Middle East: Modernity, Imperial Bureaucracy and Islam. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2015.
Gregg L. Carter
Cem Emrence’s, Remapping the Ottoman Middle East, is an ambitious effort to cultivate a new analytical framework to the field of Ottoman Studies that addresses variables of socio-economic and political diversity that are often overlooked in previous studies of the Ottoman Middle East. The application of this new analytical framework functions both as a mean of explaining the uneven development witnessed in specific regions of the Ottoman Empire and revealing multiple, alternative paths to modernity in the region. Emrence’s call to implement his multi-disciplinary, intra-empire perspective is necessary, according to the author, in order to understand the variations of historical paths in the Ottoman world. Subsequently, Emrence identifies three distinct historical paths spatially situated within the Empire: the Coast, the Interior, and the Frontier. Moreover, while focus is placed on discerning these alternative paths to modernity, Emrence can address the much larger question concerning the disposition of Ottoman rule from the eighteenth century to the Empire’s demise following the War of 1914-18 and, by extension, address the implications of the empire’s demise on Middle Eastern social constructs.
Book Review: L.W.C. van Lit. The World of Image in Islamic Philosophy: Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi, Shahrazuri and Beyond. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.
L.W.C. Van Lit covers a rarely studied topic of Islamic theology, eschatology. The book hovers around a single statement written by medieval Islamic scholar Suhrawardi in his magnum opus, Hikmat al-Ishraq [The Philosophy of Illumination, 1186]: “Whoever sees that place is certain of the existence of another world different from the [world of] bodies, in which are suspended images” (p. 1). Van Lit points out that the whole book can be considered as one giant explanation of this quote. By analyzing the works of previous scholars, starting with the famous polymath Ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna, Van Lit paints a detailed and elaborate picture of a once infamous idea within the Islamic world and systematically traces its progression and development up to the current age in Shia Islamic thought. Before doing so, he walks the reader through the technical terminology and intricate methodology in his introduction. In this first chapter, he introduces the prominent scholars covered in the text and provides a brief outline of his work. Despite all the explanations, some concepts and lines of logic might be challenging for novice readers of this topic.