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Book Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior (MIT Press) by Lee C. McIntyre (2009-02-13)


Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior (MIT Press) by Lee C. McIntyre (2009-02-13)

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Review Text

  • By Louis Berger on November 4, 2008

    Prof Wegner says that "it takes a lot of nerve" to make the proposals this book makes. I say, it takes grandiosity, ignorance, naivete, arrogance. (I guess one can't give a book zero stars.) The author ignores several centuries of criticisms of scientism by major thinkers, and all the current commentary on objectivity, absolutism, etc., by, for example, Barbara Harris, Bryan Appleyard, Ludwig Fleck, Allan Megill ("Rethinking Objectivity"); also, my own .The Unboundaried Self: Putting the Person Back Into the View from NowhereThe book is simplistic, misleading. I didn't like it.

  • By Eugen on March 10, 2012

    It irritates me to no end when I read statements such as "During the Dark Ages, the progress of Western civilization virtually stopped. The knowledge gained by the scholars of the classical age was lost; for nearly 600 years, life was governed by superstitions and fears field by ignorance.", which appears in the cover blurb. Yet, Lee McIntyre is a fellow in the history of science? Yet he doesn't know that there were no "Dark Ages", that that was just a phrase promulgated by Protestants attempting to denigrate anything done by the Catholic Church prior to the Reformation? Historians today do not look at the period as "dark" or as having little or no progress. During that period historians document a sea of advances such as the rise of the Scholastics and the university system, the invention of eyeglasses, the clock, crop rotation, the horse shoe, the horse collar, to say nothing of the foundational aspects of the scientific method, physics, chemistry, and science in general.Obviously, this seriously hampers taking the rest of the thesis presented by McIntyre seriously. If he can't get basic history right then perhaps his thesis is incorrect to boot. The entire book is riddled with inaccuracies as to how science and reasoned thought progressed through the period from 400AD to 1400AD. He seems, like many, to latch onto Galileo as if there was no science before him and yet if science was so disliked by the Church where is the evidence? How do you explain the efforts of the various learned scholars at the various universities? The very ones that were proving Aristotle wrong and that were paving the way forward for science.The thesis would have been stronger had he not lamely reached back into his flawed understanding of history but rather focused on the obvious and true issues some today have with science and the scientific method. He should have focused on the obscurant and obstinate attempts to bastardize science today so as to defend his argument and drive an agenda for at least the attempt to see if a science of behaviour is even possible.Thus, I have no qualms with his wondering if we can have a science of human behaviour, regardless of how much I believe such a thing is impossible. It is best to explore new avenues. Even failures lead to interesting discoveries and we must never shut off an avenue of research. Yet the entire book reads as if it was written as wishful thinking backed up by what he remembers of high school history and high school science. Science is predicated on being able to specify a hypothesis based on observable results and then have others verify your results and thus your hypothesis. However, the very nature of social science is that the observer is intractably intertwined with the experiment, something true science works hard to utterly avoid. So, how do you ensure you remove the observer's impact from the behavioural study? How can results based on the effectively random behaviour and self-interested performance of individuals and groups be properly defined so as to be reproducible, to say nothing of being able to create valid hypotheses from the observations? And how does one separate out personality strengths wherein one or more individuals can lead an entire group astray courtesy of their charisma or other attributes while another group, without a similar charismatic leader, would not be led astray? McIntyre touches upon this but he never really attempts to determine what is, in effect, a larger version of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle but applied to individuals and groups of individuals. I have little doubt generalizations may be possible, as they have been for decades, but to actually presume that deep science can be applied via the scientific method without having the observers biases and tests totally botch the experiment itself is rather questionable.A science of human behaviour requires a deeper examination of the the knowns and unknowns so as to properly define the necessary skepticism so that any results can be properly examined scientifically. Without a deep rooted skepticism the attempt at a new science will fail and become nothing more than a series of observational vignettes, utterly useless in a true scientific sense.It's a pity that McIntyre had to litter his dissertation with flawed history, but then the entire book probably would have been about 20 pages long and more suitable to publication at a conference or in a journal than as a book.

  • By Dr. Richard G. Petty on January 29, 2007

    Dark Ages is a brave and energetic polemic about a dirty little secret that is little talked about, and that is that the science of human behavior is actually nothing of the sort.Whilst the scientific method has been applied with vigor and determination to the rest of the natural world, it has been used in a very odd way to explain social behavior. Instead of the application of falsifiable hypotheses, the explanations for human behaviors are rooted more in ideology than science. Lee McIntyre contends that the majority of philosophers and social scientists do not have the courage to make an empirical inquiry into the causes of human action. They often cite a number of reasons why the scientific method cannot be applied to understanding such tragedies as terrorism and starvation. Lee expertly demolishes each of these major objections.Obviously tens of thousands of social scientists have not been sitting on their hands. But Lee suggest that their work needs to be sharpened, the focus changed, and above all, the assumptions of their work need to be challenged. This is always hard. However hard-nosed we may think that we are, every time that we do an experiment or responds to something in the news, we bring a lot of baggage with us. There are many practical problems with any attempt to challenge or change the status quo. Not the least of which is grant support. Stories abound of people failing to get grant support because their work flew in the face of "received wisdom."This is a highly readable book of only 144 pages, excluding an eight-page introduction. And those 144 pages include some notes, a short bibliography and an index. I am no speed-reader, but I still finished the book in an hour or so, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.After the introduction, there are five chapters:1. Diagnosing the human condition2. A science of human behavior3. Resistance to knowledge4. A lesson from the history of science5. What is to be done?Although polemic in style, it is also an optimistic book with some highly practical suggestions for applying scientific rigor to the understanding of some of the most fundamental problems facing us today.As he says in closing, "A science of human behavior can lead the way out of the current mess of unreason and tragedy that hangs over human affairs. The application of our highest form of reason, science, to the study of our social problems is our best hope for salvation. Even in a dark age, our reason can see us through. Our future may well be brighter that we have imagined it, for scientific inquiry is well equipped to answer the questions that have been put by human misery. The word awaits our response."I am quite certain that science is not the only road to understanding, but it is an extraordinarily powerful one.This is an important book that deserves a wide readership. We have to try and understand some of the apparently illogical things happening in our world, or we are all going to be submerged by them.Highly recommended.

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