Cultural Relativity or Newtonian Theory?: An Analysis of an Analogy

In his neuroanthropology blog post, Daniel Lende compares the idea of culture to relativity, with the hopes of finding a new way to define the “its complicated” viewpoint of culture. Lende first takes classic anthropological theory on culture and criticizes it for not covering all bases, much like Newton’s theory is not the only way to view the universe. He emphasizes in order for Relativityus to better understand culture we must remember our “observations are relative, and help shape what is actually observed”. He expands this viewpoint by saying, we cannot look as culture as a force but rather as how Einstein meant for gravity to be viewed, “a curvature of human lives and history due to the mass of ourselves”. In his concluding remarks, he advises that relativism, specifically cultural relativism be viewed as a substantive theoretical point rather than a methodological point.

I agree that culture is too complicated of a term to describe with a linear analogy such as Newtonian force, however anthropology is already a philosophical scientific field and a “warped” theory would struggle to validate and serve as a baseline for research. It is unique to look at culture with a warped relativity where the observer is affecting the subject however how could any anthropologist account for this theory when trying to validate their observations as science? Perhaps it is best that the line comparing anthropological theory and scientific theory be uncrossed and distinct.


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