Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Dynamic Definitions? A Response to Abbey Perumpanani's Article, "Civilization Defined"

Academic journal article Comparative Civilizations Review

Dynamic Definitions? A Response to Abbey Perumpanani's Article, "Civilization Defined"

Article excerpt

By a happy coincidence, I have been asked to comment on Dr. Abbey Perumpanani's stimulating article, "Civilization Defined." The coincidence is that the editors chose to print my "End Note" in the same issue with Perumpanani's lead article of the Comparative Civilizations Review (No. 68, Spring 2013). My little essay, "Seeing Nagasaki: A Tale," enabled one to consider what may be learned from Nagasaki about becoming "civilized" in an evolving or devolving, compassionate or brutal world.

There are many facts about the city to learn, including that the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was meant to strike a munitions area, an important shipbuilding and servicing complex. Instead, winds carried the atomic bomb to a Catholic area, to the north. As a result, the bomb apparently fell on a Christian hospital and medical university....

As the paragraph implies, the shadows cast by Nagasaki then have darkened and lengthened almost exponentially for the world we live in now.

Rediscovering Civilization in Nagasaki and Beyond

In the midst of that project I realized I could not well proceed without careful attention to some of Dr. Perumpanani's main points. Two stand out - how he began and how he ended his piece.

The "inclusive scientific definition" heading his Introduction reads: A civilization is a dynamical system that supports endogenous cultural development through economic activity aggregated across elements of its data.

It becomes quickly apparent that this physician and mathematician is an exponent of what in his conclusion (p. 19) he calls Mathematical History. This term is carefully explained in the body of the essay but at its outset (p. 9) he states it "can bring about a convergence in the widely differing historical views of civilization. "

In his conclusion, he stops short of insisting that those of us who are not proficient in math need to master the intricacies of calculus and its mysterious grammar. Several times, in fact, he illuminates his own meaning by translating the calculus into less intimidating language. Then he adds, "A more efficient approach, I believe, is to open the door from the other side-to import from other disciplines academics with an interest in history, and to foster interactions through them. Such importation," he continues, "has happened before, and to great success: von Ranke's background in philology, for example, significantly energized his approach to history." (p. 19)

In his very last sentence the doctor characterizes his interest as one of "Mathematical History-a common platform to objectively discuss our shared past." Since my perspective is that of a Christian Humanist, the contrast between us is interesting. It may stimulate both fresh dialogue and even insight.

My approach now will be not so much a pro or con production as an inquiry into the body of what the good doctor proposes within his beginning-ending framework.

First, do I correctly understand what is being put forth?

Second, what are my points?

Here's a partial list plus some samples of how I develop my thoughts and defend them. I do welcome Dr. Perumpanani's clarification of his position and his supporting arguments, as well as his critiquing of mine.

1. The city of Nagasaki's violent yet peace-producing history is parallel in important ways to the efforts of many able scholars to answer the still unresolved question: "What is civilization?" (This has become my thesis statement based in part on some translation I have done from the Japanese. That labor of love in turn has inspired me to engage in further comparative historical research.)

2. I share an important perspective with Dr. Perumpanani. I fully concur with his hope to bring about a "convergence in the widely differing historical views on civilization. "

3. However, I suspect that my own approach has more in common with thinkers such as Rob Bell, Huston Smith, Ray Kurzweil, and Eiji Hattori than with Professor Perumpanani. …

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