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orion Orion Falsification 101
I can hear you all saying--I can pass that course! All I need to do is lie!
I might even be able to teach it. :-)
I haven't actually read Popper, but I do know his name from my previous
lives as psychologist and statistician. Some of you know the following example
from other lists when I've posted it.
Basically, instead of assembling bit by bit a number of individual facts that
may or may not have a bearing on the argument they are called on to support,
one builds definitive knowledge by knowing what is not. The basic logic is
When it's raining, the streets are wet.
The streets are dry.
Therefore, it's not raining.
There's no way to be sure why the streets are wet when they are; the cause
could be anything from street cleaning trucks to a burst water main to a
mountain-snow runoff. There is no knowledge to be gained by examining all the
possible causes and associative conditions to the wetness of the streets;
rather, we make epistemological advances when we can state definitely that
something is *not* the case.
A potentially falsifiable statement that's been applied to the study of the
subset of DSS that were found in the caves designated by a number, and the
letter "Q" comes from Pliny the Elder. This statement, and its potential
falsification, also applies to the buildings at Khirbet Qumran.
Pliny the Elder (d. 79 CE) says of the Essene *tribe* that it "has no
women," and that "it has renounced all sexual desire."
The first of these clauses is, in principle, a falsifiable assertion, while
the second is not. To falsify the first, to be able to assert the contrary,
one needs evidence that there were women at Qumran, physical evidence that is
unambiguously associated with women. If that is found, then Pliny's statement
may be true of Essenes, but it is not true of the location, cave or ruined
building, where evidence of women's presence at the appropriate time has been
The second statment cannot be falsified because we and the Essenes live in
different times, and because only a poll of all Essenes could potentially give
information. Then if one has some information from Essenes that is
contradictory, one has to decide what constitutes a sufficient proporation of
Essenes to be able to say they have renounced sexual desire as a tribe. And
further, can they be believed? And still further, is there a definite
physical location where we can see evidence that they actually practiced a
renunciation of sexual desire.
What most of us do is sit around and tell each other stories about what we
have found that is like the second phrase. I am writing about a text in Syriac
that has at least three links to material found at Qumran. These links can't
be falsified. The streets are wet, and I don't know why. I am calling them
subterranean links, at the moment, to remind myself that there isn't anything
to see, here.
There is evidence of women at Qumran; for starters, see the article in
<j>Biblical Archaeologist</> of January 1995, on the Qumran Cemetery.
The problem with using this approach in a rigid fashion is that it doesn't
represent complex situations very well at all. Maybe there were Essenes and
women and landholders and covenanters all living at Qumran, in various states
of celibacy and in various mental states of renunciation of sexual desire. Or
none of them, only a few caretakers until they all came together for a market
day on rosh chodesh. We would not be able to represent such a model very well
in terms of what could be falsified.
I need to be elsewhere five minutes ago. Sorry it's so long; if I'd had more
time it would be shorter.
Sigrid Peterson University of Pennsylvania firstname.lastname@example.org