Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ways of Knowing

“The most obvious thing that distinguishes knowledge from belief is truth…
truth is independent of what anyone happens to believe is true,
and that simply believing something is true does not make it true.
Indeed, even if everyone believes that something is true, it may turn out to be false…
knowledge requires something less than certainty.
In practice, when we say something is “true”
we usually mean that it is “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

We usually justify beliefs and knowledge claims by appealing to one of the four ways of knowing:
– “I saw it!” (perception)
–“Someone told me” (language)
– “I worked it out” (reason)
– “It’s intuitively obvious” (emotion)
from Richard von Lagemaat’s course book “Theory of Knowledge”

   I guess I keep coming back to thoughts on “Ways of Knowing” because of that upcoming NEARA Conference that I can’t afford to go to. It’s a struggle for me these days just to be able to afford to pay attention.
   And I guess from that constant attack on my beliefs about Indigenous Stonework, something I’m just really beginning to grasp after 25 years and, like any good man of wisdom, to realize there is more to it than I’ll ever understand.
    That NEARA Conference keeps bringing to mind “Thorson’s Keynote Speech to NERA (sic)” that has transformed, uncorrected grammatically, into a web page on the Stone Wall Initiative entitled “Pre-European Contact” {http://stonewall.uconn.edu/investigation/pre-european-contact/}.
    In April 13, 2015 I saw that this page had been added to the SWI web pages:

Sampson Rock in Madison, CT is a special and evocative place 
This is a glacial erratic, a “rocking stone” and, in this taxonomy, a Notable Stone.

     I was a little hopeful when I read Thorson's first sentence (actually using the proper word "There" instead instead of "Their"):
    Of course there are!  There have to be!  Hundreds of thousands of human beings have walked and worked the New England uplands for at least 11,000 years.  And many features have been confirmed as pre-Colonial by properly credentialed archaeologists.” I had hoped for some examples other than the one given, Sampson Rock, but then the author’s belief quickly turned back to the same old culturally biased thing:
     “But let us not conflate the few, the small, and the odd stone features in the woods with the latticework of abandoned stone walls gracing much of the New England countryside. This latticework of walls is the collective work of colonial and early American farmsteads built by Euro-settlers and their descendants since 1607.” The author ties into NEARA as he writes, “Last night, while giving a talk to the Boxborough Conservation Trust in Massachusetts, I got the inevitable question about pre-colonial stone ruins.  This morning, I decided to post my answer in the form of a keynote speech I gave several years ago to the New England Antiquities Research Association.

     Once you follow that link and get to “The Odd Stone Out” speech, you find that the one thing that bothers Robert Thorson the most is ( a lack of?) scientific proof that “Native Americans” or Indigenous People built stone constructions found in New England. He writes: “To my mind, the most important research question facing us today is how to sort out the certainty of a tiny bit of pre-historic stonework from the self-evident stonework of the historic era.” He lets us know that, “The answer for me lies in what I call my conceptual toolbox. In it are many tools that I have gathered over the years. But there are five tools that I return to time and time again when going about my work. I dub them: (a) Ways of knowing; (b) the parsimony principle, (c) the “good” hypothesis; and (d) the idiosyncratic factor.”
     (Using the Science of Mathematics, I sense that this may not actually be five tools, but I am not very good when it comes to numbers.)

“(a) Ways of knowing: “These boundaries between tradition, intuition, science, and faith must be acknowledged and respected if we are to make progress.” I’m not sure whose Traditions he is talking about, but many Indigenous Cultures in the hemisphere have traditions of placing stones in donation or memory piles, from early contact times up to the present, examples of which can easily be found and have been documented by scientists who study Anthropology. Intuition and Faith can influence Science, “another word for secular logic: For the question “How do you know?” it answers: “Because I can prove (sic)” Its key tools are the hypotheses, experimental trials, quantitative analysis, and comparative methods.”
(This might prompt another person to segway into and to explain “hypotheses,” but instead Thorson jumps to number two or:) 
(b): the parsimony principle: “ The basic idea is that, given two plausible competing explanations for the same observation, the simplest or most familiar is the most likely to be correct.
    By using the phrase, “most likely,” I am affirming that the principle applies not to truth or falsehood, but only to probability of being correct. This parsimony principle is not proof of any kind. Rather, it’s a “rule of thumb” used to help in the framing of hypotheses, not a test of whether one is true or not.
    By using the phrase simplest, I mean the one requiring the fewest and/or the least convoluted assumptions. Bt (sic) familiar, I mean the one that is most consistent with time-tested, local explanations.”
     I know well those “time-tested, local explanations.” Every Stone Wall book ever written or plagiarized from Eric Sloane on down perpetuates those ideas that cloud actual scientific thinking and observation, not to mention ignoring another facet of the Parsimony Theory. It may be important to take into consideration that Indigenous People lived in the area called New England for somewhere around 12,000 years while European Contact and Colonization only happened in the last 400 years.
     My math skills plague me again: out of the total human history of the area, what percentage of total time is that Post-Contact period?

(c): the “good” hypothesis: “A hypothesis is a good question framed as a statement that yields a binary (yes/no) answer (for each attempt at falsification). This sentence requires some unpacking,” Thorson continues, stating that a good question is (and thankfully doesn’t tells us how many these four or five points are):

Novel:  hasn’t been asked and tested before.
Relevant: worth knowing. Relevance is culturally determined.
Ethical: does no harm, or harm within culturally accepted norms.
Testable:  with observations or measurements.”

      I consider these as semi-novel “good If/Then questions,” worth knowing (as in the true nature of these stones), ethical for the same reason, and certainly testable by critical observation – although I get tired just thinking about how to measure them all, - and really quite incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring as an art form, as well as perhaps a sustainable permaculture developed over thousands of years:
        If the Indigenous People of Turtle Island (Native Americans of North America) maintained the landscape with fire then how were those fires controlled, especially in areas of dense population such as New England?
        If Paleo-Indians (the Ancestors of the Indigenous People of Turtle Island) made “sophisticated prehistoric stone walls deep beneath the surface of Lake Huron,” the most recent find described as “two stone lines forming a lane about 30 metres long and eight metres wide which ended in a corral-type structure” with “hunting blinds built into the sides as well as other lanes and structures,” then why not elsewhere on Turtle Island?
    If there are many free standing stone concentrations/constructions that resemble animals, both actual and legendary, that figured highly in the Indigenous People of Turtle Island (Native Americans of North America) Worldview – the turtle, bear and deer etc. along with the Great Serpents (including the one in Ohio) etc., -  then who was more likely to have the time and motivation to create this artwork?
      If those same techniques of artwork can be found in those longer piles of stones most often called “stone walls” then again, who was most likely to have the time and motivation to create this artwork?

 (d): the idiosyncratic factor: “Doodling – that a feature exists for no good reason at all."
        Really this is a silly kind of way to throw a monkey wrench into the artistic aspect of stonework and nullify its existence as Indigenous despite the similarity to other stone structures world-wide and especially all that of the Western Hemisphere, from Machu Picchu to Bannock Pont.
      (Most writers make use of the expression "Whimsy" in place of "Doodling," as in "Whimsical Walls.")

(e): "???"

It’s kind of convenient that I can come up with my own (e), a phrase beginning with that letter:
Ethnic Cleansing: To deny that there are remnants of Stonework (and Earthworks) of many kinds that illustrate an Indigenous presence on the Sacred Cultural Landscape of Turtle Island is a form of “Ethnic Cleansing." I’ll also add that the reuse of Indigenous made stonework, adding wooden rails to comply with heights specified in Colonial Fence Laws, and perpetuating the claim the great majority of them, especially about a quarter million miles of rows of stones, as post contact “stone walls and fences” was and is a continuing form of cultural appropriation very much related to the appropriation of Indigenous Homelands {http://wakinguponturtleisland.blogspot.com/2015/03/cultural-appropriation.html }.

Could Money be involved in all this reluctance to recognize and ‘Ethnically Cleanse” Indigenous Stonework (and, in the Housatonic watershed where I live, the Indigenous People who are the most likely descendants of those People)??
Let’s test THAT Hypothesis…


  1. A very good post about a relevant and important issue. People such as ourselves are lucky in some regards that we do not belong to the inner circles of academia. As Thorson pointed out it is an institution with strict governance and observances. Basically, the message from the academic world (at large, although there are many great archaelogists and scholars out there) seems to be "don't rock the boat." Indeed it might take an un-wanted paradigm shift for some academics such as Thorson to admit that the sheer volume of stoneworks, along with obvious indigenous features/ cosmology at sites are in fact pre-european contact in origin.

    Also, it is not people such as Thorson in the field noting archaic-looking walls in "wasteland" habitat running up steep ledges, with worked-out boulders resembling profiles of turtles, etc. It is us in the field, researching. As Dr. Curt Hoffman once said, "once you've seen some of these features enough times, you start to know what you're looking at."

    I also found it convenient that Thorson included an obvious colonial era stone-work as one of his pictures for his article. It is as if this "great man of knowing" (supposedley) gets to flash such a picture before the eyes of a grand audience, implying "see , look, a stonework of colonial origin... that's all they are..." Meanwhile he stayed far away from selecting a picture of an archaic-looking wall running up a ledge with interesting features as I already mentioned. As long as people are too distracted with every-day activities, eating hot dogs and watching ball games, they aren't ever going to find out or connect the dots about the rich, hidden history of the very land they live on, which was exploited by early colonists (setting up camp at old Native village sites, grave robbing to scrounge for food, using the old "Great Path" to get from Boston to Connecticut, etc.)

    I think you are right about Thorson and other academics poo-pooing stoneworks as toeing the line in the spirit of manifest destiny or ethnic cleansing. Also I am glad to see NEARA members like Peter Waksman giving presentations at libraries/ historic societies to balance the perspective of the stone-works.

  2. A keynote in public speaking is a talk that establishes a main underlying theme. ... At political or industrial conventions and expositions and at academic conferences, the keynote address or keynote speech is delivered to set the underlying tone and summarize the core message or most important revelation of the event.
    Keynote - Wikipedia