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Is lutherie a science or a pseudoscience?


bcncello
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I've decided to start a new topic to adress this question, rather to spoil Don Noon's What does the back do?

 

Is not my intention at all to question Don Noon (and others) research, nor was it the reason that brought me to open this thread. Actually I'm very happy that people try to scientificaly explain how an instrument works, beacuse I think there's a lot of mysticism, economic interests, and build-up over the years beliefs on the subject.

 

But I've been reading lately about the science philosopher Karl Popper and his works on the Falsifiability. Here comes an excerpt from Wikipedia (of course!)

 

<<Falsifiability or refutability of a statement, hypothesis, or theory is an inherent possibility to prove it to be false. A statement is called falsifiable if it is possible to conceive an observation or an argument which proves the statement in question to be false. In this sense, falsify is synonymous with nullify, meaning not "to commit fraud" but "show to be false". Some philosophers argue that science must be falsifiable.

 

For example, by the problem of induction, no number of confirming observations can verify a universal generalization, such as All swans are white, yet it is logically possible to falsify it by observing a single black swan. Thus, the term falsifiability is sometimes synonymous to testability. Some statements, such as It will be raining here in one million years, are falsifiable in principle, but not in practice.[2]

 
The concern with falsifiability gained attention by way of philosopher of science Karl Popper's scientific epistemology "falsificationism". Popper stresses the problem of demarcation—distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific—and makes falsifiability the demarcation criterion, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific, and the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience.>>
 
So, what's a luthier?...An artist?, a very talented person?, a scientist?, a master on its field?...one might think there's no science in shoemaking but just a "savoir-faire" as the frenchs would said  :)
 
If the response is no, should lutherie become a science?
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 Popper stresses the problem of demarcation—distinguishing the scientific from the unscientific—and makes falsifiability the demarcation criterion, such that what is unfalsifiable is classified as unscientific, and the practice of declaring an unfalsifiable theory to be scientifically true is pseudoscience.>>

 

 

I'm not following : how is this connected with chopping wood and posting on forums ? :)  

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Going further, if quality of sound is the ultimate goal of lutherie, then could there exist a scientific approach? it would always be a matter of subjective tastes or of statistics.

 

Till now science and scientific methods applied to stringed instruments, such as violins, have mostly been used to scientificaly explain what makes a good violin good, but have not been used (or failed) to explain why such violin was good.

 

Edit: sorry Carl I hadn't seen your post, but there you have my answer

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You type faster than me - this almost exactly what I was writing.  :)

 

Lutherie is neither a science, nor is it a pseudoscience.

 

It is simply a craft that merges into an art form.

But I'll go further.  It is a craft that combines technical methods with artistic sensibilities that can be approached according to engineering principles and studied scientifically.

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Going further, if quality of sound is the ultimate goal of lutherie, then could there exist a scientific approach? it would always be a matter of subjective tastes or of statistics.

 

Till now science and scientific methods applied to stringed instruments, such as violins, have mostly been used to scientificaly explain what makes a good violin good, but have not been used (or failed) to explain why such violin was good.

 

Edit: sorry Carl I hadn't seen your post, but there you have my answer

 

Alrighty.... :)  Karl Popper, who was a very clever man tried ( in very few words... ) to circumvent an issue raised by Mr. Lenin. Mr Lenin was a serious philosopher and he postulated that "logic can not be disconnected from the content of thought". Karl Popper thought he can overcome this rather thorny issue by focusing strictly on science and by creating a new criteria. It didn't work as intended - it picked up problems immediately and you'll find entire Web sites dedicated to this. But that doesn't mean it's "not good" because it's a great tool. It means it failed to be applicable universally. Nothing is.

 

But I think you stumbled onto something here somehow intuitively : lutherie does have something popperian about it in that the protagonists keep red-defining their ideas to make them amenable to their tests. I don't think that's quite what Popper had in mind but who could not have complained : he didn't ban backtracking.

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For me, as someone who is not a violin maker but has some interest in the violin making process if for no other reason than selecting the right violin maker to buy from, I think violin making at its highest levels is ultimately an act of implementing your intuitions.

 

The big question then is, how does a maker educate and hone his/her intuitions?  It can be through scientific knowledge (physics, acoustics, chemistry, etc) or experience (building a couple hundred violins and paying attention to the results) or experimenting (trying something slightly new each time, rather than just trying to reproduce the last success).  There are probably many other ways.

 

Actually it probably doesn't matter how one increases one's intuitions about violin making as long as the process is on-going and the knowledge base keeps getting bigger.

 

The opposite of improving one's intuitions is just copying what's been done before, perhaps even exact copying in every detail.  No doubt some learning and educating goes on there and in that sense the knowledge base is increased. Such copying may even be an essential part of any maker's education.  But if the maker doesn't internalize what's been learned and doesn't apply it to something new in his own making -- ie, if the maker's goal is to continue as a pure and careful copyist as possible -- then whatever intuitions have been developed are never applied to produce something unique and individual.

 

If one doesn't have the intuition and conviction to introduce something uniquely personal into violin making, then that person might as well be using his exquisite carving skills for making furniture. 

 

Relying on intuition doesn't sound like science to me, but it's not necessarily anti-science either.

 

Use science to inform your intuitions if you want, but then build based on your convictions and intuitions.

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Going further, if quality of sound is the ultimate goal of lutherie, then could there exist a scientific approach? it would always be a matter of subjective tastes or of statistics.

 

 

Nobody knows for sure. This is part of psychology and psychology had a rough ride and it's rebuilding itself for some 30 years or so.

It's a question of qualia. We can conceivable agree that certain "things" appear the same but ( some say ) we can not communicate our sensations about them and then it follows we can entertain the same sensations from "things" which are agreed as different.

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I cookery a science or a pseudoscience?

The best meal ever had was in a part time village restaurant near Lucca in Italy cooked by a team of local grandmothers for £14.  It was local cooking and ingredients and they knew exactly what they were doing...Impossible to have the same quality in a posh city place  or by science but... some cooks do try to do bit science in their cooking in the city http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/10612745/Heston-Blumenthal-shuts-Dinner-restaurant-after-norovirus-outbreak.html

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Till now science and scientific methods applied to stringed instruments, such as violins, have mostly been used to scientificaly explain what makes a good violin good, but have not been used (or failed) to explain why such violin was good.

 

 

The problem I see here is that we abuse words like "science" and "scientific method" and allow "technology" to creep in as a crutch when needed. To my mind, some things have been explained, progress made and there is going to be more. Strad used his science and scientific method and modern makers use theirs. All one needs to validate this ( you like Popper ... ) is predictable results.

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Lutherie is neither a science, nor is it a pseudoscience.

 

It is simply a craft that merges into an art form.

This is almost exactly what I was going to say before I read it.

 

I don't think the question is properly posed.  Science is science.  Lutherie is lutherie.  I'd rather ask:  Can lutherie benefit from science? Or:  Does lutherie benefit from scientific methods?  Which sounds like dumb questions until you've played a hundred or so violins based on seemingly scientific experiments and best guesses.

 

Nothing benefits from pseudo-science, except by pure luck.

 

A further point is that all the current makers swept up in "science to the hilt" have no idea whether after 20 years they might not be making even better violins had they been scientific cretins all that time.  Impossible to prove, however.  

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I cookery a science or a pseudoscience?

The best meal ever had was in a part time village restaurant near Lucca in Italy cooked by a team of local grandmothers for £14.  It was local cooking and ingredients and they knew exactly what they were doing...Impossible to have the same quality in a posh city place  or by science but... some cooks do try to do bit science in their cooking in the city http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/foodanddrinknews/10612745/Heston-Blumenthal-shuts-Dinner-restaurant-after-norovirus-outbreakYeYes

Hit the nail on the head...........

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You type faster than me - this almost exactly what I was writing. :)

But I'll go further. It is a craft that combines technical methods with artistic sensibilities that can be approached according to engineering principles and studied scientifically.

All is said in your post...

It sometimes refer to science, but who cares what we call it?

Is that really important?

It might depend on our degree of understanding...

Anyway an exact science doesn't mean anything to me.

Lutherie is a craft with different approaches, scientific, philosophic, technical ,artistic and so on...

... I think there is room for personnality, character,..

Keeping a bit spontaneous is something I hope not to lose.

So I ' m not interested in that question further than this.

Cheers , Dave.

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For me, as someone who is not a violin maker but has some interest in the violin making process if for no other reason than selecting the right violin maker to buy from, I think violin making at its highest levels is ultimately an act of implementing your intuitions.

 

The big question then is, how does a maker educate and hone his/her intuitions?  It can be through scientific knowledge (physics, acoustics, chemistry, etc) or experience (building a couple hundred violins and paying attention to the results) or experimenting (trying something slightly new each time, rather than just trying to reproduce the last success).  There are probably many other ways.

 

Actually it probably doesn't matter how one increases one's intuitions about violin making as long as the process is on-going and the knowledge base keeps getting bigger.

 

The opposite of improving one's intuitions is just copying what's been done before, perhaps even exact copying in every detail.  No doubt some learning and educating goes on there and in that sense the knowledge base is increased. Such copying may even be an essential part of any maker's education.  But if the maker doesn't internalize what's been learned and doesn't apply it to something new in his own making -- ie, if the maker's goal is to continue as a pure and careful copyist as possible -- then whatever intuitions have been developed are never applied to produce something unique and individual.

 

If one doesn't have the intuition and conviction to introduce something uniquely personal into violin making, then that person might as well be using his exquisite carving skills for making furniture. 

 

Relying on intuition doesn't sound like science to me, but it's not necessarily anti-science either.

 

Use science to inform your intuitions if you want, but then build based on your convictions and intuitions.

Very good post,

I think about the same

Well said

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So, what's a luthier?...An artist?, a very talented person?, a scientist?, a master on its field?...

 

 

There are probably as many approaches to the craft as there are makers.  

 

My personal approach is to use all available tools to understand how the violin functions, and how the player and listener interact with it... as a way of educating my intuition, which is more physics-oriented than most.  I would not go so far as to call even my version of lutherie a "science", as there is no well-defined goal for the whole process.  Like cooking.  And, like cooking, it is probably enlightening to follow someone else's recipe as closely as possible once in a while, just to explore the range of possibilities.

 

As for falsifiability, I'm a firm believer in testing theories, beliefs, or wild ideas to see if they can be proven false.  I have a near 100% success rate in doing so, especially when testing my own beliefs.

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Popper's ideas are not applicable here.  Lutherie is neither a descriptive nor a predictive science, it is a technology, which may be considered as a ramshackle collection of methods for achieving a given result.

 

Some of its business and philosophical littermates may be pseudoscientific under Popper's rules (whence, I feel, the confusion arises), but the productive activities performed by makers and restorers, usually grouped as "lutherie" are immune to the rules because they are technological.

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Popper's ideas are not applicable here.  Lutherie is neither a descriptive nor a predictive science, it is a technology, which may be considered as a ramshackle collection of methods for achieving a given result.

Agree!

"Science" is a very specific term with a rulebook attached - it's not the same as knowledge or understanding.

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