Encyclopedia of Big Data

Living Edition
| Editors: Laurie A. Schintler, Connie L. McNeely


  • Marcienne Martin
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-32001-4_10-1

Irrespective of the medium applied, information compiles data relating to a given study object. This is the case with anthropology. Indeed, diversity translated through language, culture, or social structure is an important source of information. Concerning the study of human beings, answers have differed according to the different epochs and cultures. Anthropology as a field of scientific research began in the nineteenth century. It derived from anthropometry, a science dedicated to the dimensional particularities of human being. Buffon with the study: Traité des variations de l’espèce humaine (Study on the Variation of the Human Species) (1749) and Pierre-Paul Broca, the founder of the Society of Anthropology of Paris (1859), are considered rance’s forerunners of this science. In the era of the Internet, data has become accessible to nearly anyone wishing to consult them. In the free encyclopedia Wikipedia, there are over 1,864,000 articles in the French language. As for the eleven thematic portals: art, geography, history, leisure, medicine, politics, religion, science, society, sport, technology, they subsume 1,636 portals, always in the French language. Anthropology is one of the entries of this encyclopedia. Anthropology refers to the science dedicated to the study of the human as a whole, either at the physical level, as it belongs to the animal world, or in the context of both its environment and history when analyzed from the perspective of different human groups who have been observed. From an etymological point of view, the term “anthropology” stems from the Greek “Anthropos,” which contrasts the human to the gods; moreover, the Greek word “logos” refers to “science, speech.” The anthropologist, a specialist in this field of research, is written in the Greek language as follows: α’ ν θ ρ ω π ο λ ο γ ο ς. Other related sciences, such as anthropology, sociology, etc., also study the Homo sapiens, but in a particular context (ethnicity, sociocultural substrate …).

In general, a human being needs references. Homo sapiens always responds to questioning was it strange, with no less singular explanation, but sometimes validated by the phenomenon of beliefs or hypothesis made by them, perhaps depending on the evolution of technology through verifiable hypothesis (dark matter, dark energy …). These interrogations are at the origin of the creation of mythologies, of religions, and of philosophies. So to answer the question of the origin and the meaning of natural phenomena, such as thunderstorms, volcanoes, and storms, diverse beliefs have attributed these creations to the deities, sometimes in response to human behaviors considered as negative; hence, these deities have developed these natural disasters. When these phenomena were understood scientifically, the responses related to these beliefs disappeared. Why we live in order to finally die is a question that has not been answered satisfactorily yet, except through many religions where beliefs and their responses are posed as postulates.

Nourished by the richness of imagination in humans, philosophy is a mode of thinking which tries to provide responses to various questions concerning the meaning of life, to the various human behaviors and to their regulations (moral principles), to the death, to the existence or to the inexistence of an “architect” at the origin of the world of matter. Concerning the language as a method of transmission, regardless of the tool used, the thought is based on complex phenomena. The understanding of the objects in the world induces different forms of reasoning, such as logical reasoning and analogical reasoning. Some types of reasoning include a discourse de facto, regardless of the type of reasoning (concessive reasoning, dialectic reasoning, by reductio ad absurdum) and whatever its form (oral, written). In contrast, both the inductive and deductive reasoning type, even if they are integrated in the processes of discursive types, are correlated to the description of the objects of the world and to their place in the human paradigm. As for logical reasoning, the observed object in its contextual relationships is taken into consideration and the concluding speech serves as the culmination of the progress of thought. There is also another type of reasoning; it is analogical reasoning. In this cognitive process, an unknown object is put into relation, or where some of its given parameters are incomprehensible, but have some resemblance with something known, at least according to the observer’s perception.

Between differentiation and analogy, Human has built different paradigms one of which was incorporated divine entities. In contrast, some are elaborated from elements of objects in the world, e.g., the Centaur, half horse, half human. Others use the imaginary as a whole, which corresponds to the rewriting the objects of the world in a recomposition ad infinitum. For the Greeks, the principle of anthropomorphization of phenomena, as still unknown or objects whose origin was still unexplainable (Gaia the Earth), has been extended to some objects such as the Night, the Darkness, the Death, the Sleep, the Love, and the Desire (Gomperz 1908).

The major revolution that has given a new orientation to the study of human beings, as a species which belongs to the world of the living, was the hypothesis made by the English naturalist Darwin in 1859 about the origin of species, their variability, their adaptation to their environment, and their evolution. If the laws of heredity were not yet known at this period, it is the Czech-German monk and botanist Gregor Johann Mendel, who developed the three laws of heredity, known as Mendel’s laws, in 1866 after 10 years of study on hybridization in plants. In the journal Nature, in a paper published in 1953, the researchers James Watson and Francis Crick demonstrated the existence of the double helical structure of DNA. According to Crick, the analysis of the human genome is an extraordinary approach which is applied to the human being with respect to both its development and physiology with the benefits that it can give such in the medical field.

In addition, other researchers have worked on the phenomenon of entropy and negative entropy at the origin of the transformation of units composing the living world. Schrödinger (1993) has put in relation entropy, energy exchanges, probability, and the order of life. Moreover, Monod (1960) evokes the emergence of life and, implicitly, that of the human as pure chance. Prigogine (1967) reassesses the question of asking about the nature of the living world and, therefore, the human, based on the main principles of physics as well as those of thermodynamics; the first principle affirms the conservation of energy by all systems and the second principle (principle of order Boltzmann) holds that an isolated system evolves spontaneously toward a state of balance which corresponds to maximum entropy.

Bio sociology is a particular approach applied to the world of the living. So research of the ethologist Jaisson (1993) addresses the social insects, including ants. This author shows that there is a kind of programming that is the cause of the behavior of the species Formicus (ant) belonging to the order of Hymenoptera. This study is similar to that done by Dawkins (2003), an ethologist who supported the evolutionary theory of Darwin but posits that natural selection would be initiated by the gene through an existing program, not by the species. This observation puts the innate and the acquired as parameters of human culture into question.

These studies have opened an exploratory field to the evolutionary biologists, such as Diamond (1992) who showed the phylogenetic similarity between the pygmy chimpanzee of Zaire and the common chimpanzee from Africa and Homo sapiens. These results are based on the molecular genetic studies which have shown that we share over 98% of our genetic program with these primates. The 2% which make the difference are somehow the magical openings which allow us, in our role as human beings, to access to the understanding of the universe in which we live. This understanding is correlated to the awareness of existence and its manifestation through discourse and language. Leroi-Gourhan (1964) has stipulated that two technical centers in many vertebrates result in anthropoids for the formation of two functional pairs (hand tool and face-language). The emergence of the graphic symbol at the end of the reign of the Paleanthropien entails forging new relationships between two operative poles. In this new relationship, the vision holds the greatest place in the pairs: face-reading and hand-graphy.

If we continue the analysis between hominids and other members of the living world, we find that the observation of the environment made by the whole of the living world is intended to protect the species and the diffusion relative to their survival. These operating modes involve the instinct, either a biological determinism which, in in a particular situation, responds to a special behavior and refers to a basic programming more or less adaptable depending on the species. Moreover, whether breeding rituals, love rituals, or the answers to a situation of aggression, behaviors will be similar to a member of the species to another; indeed, the survival of the species takes priority over that of the member of the species. Among the large primate, these answers become more appropriate and they open the field of a form of creativity. In an article on chimpanzees, Servais (1993) states that these primates do not have any language; they communicate only by manipulating their behavior. They are able, for the most intelligent of them, to associate, to form coalitions, to conclude pacts, or to have access to a form of concept thought. They have forms of “protoculture”; the most famous is without doubt the habit of washing one’s potatoes in some groups of Japanese macaques, but they have no cultural production; they have a typical social organization in relation with their species, but they have no written or oral laws. This punctual creativity among the great simians has grown exponentially in humans; it is that form of creativity which opened the field of imaginary.

If the questioning concerning the innate and the acquired has been the subject of various experiences, the study of diverse ethnic groups demonstrates that through culture the adaptation of the human is highly diversified. This is due to the genealogical chain which shows the phenomenon of nomination, which, in turn, is in resonance with the construction of individual identity. The anthropologist and ethnologist Levi-Strauss (1962) evokes different modes of naming in use in ethnic groups like the Penan of Borneo as, e.g., the tecknonym meaning “father of such a” or “mother of such a” or the necronym which expresses the family relationship existing with a deceased relative and the individually named. Emperaire (1955), a researcher at the Musée de L’homme in Paris, gives the example of the Alakalufs, an ethnic group living in Tierra del Fuego, which does not name the newborn at birth; the children do not receive a name; it is only when they begin to talk and walk that the father chooses one. Other systems of genealogical chain, such as those designated as “rope” and which correspond to a link which groups a man, his daughter and the son of his daughter or a wife, son and daughters of his son (Mead 1963).

Cultural identity is articulated around specific values belonging to a particular society and defining it; they have more or less strong emotional connotations; thus a taboo object should be lived out as a territory to not transgress, because the threat of various sanctions exist including the death of the transgressor. The anthropologist Mead (1963) has exemplified this phenomenon by studying the ethnic group of the Arapesh, who were living in the Torricelli Mountains in New Guinea at the time when the author was studying their way of life (1948). The territories of the male group and the territories of the female group were separated by territories marked as taboos; concerning the flute, an object belonging to the male group, for the female group, this object was prohibited. The semantic content of certain lexical items may differ from one ethnic group to another, and even sometimes may become an antinomy. Mead cites the Arapesh and the Mundugumor, two ethnic groups that have developed their identity through entirely different moral values and behaviors. Thus, Arapesh society considers each member as sweet and helpful and wants to avoid violence. In contrast, in the ethnic group of the Mundugumor, their values are the antonyms of the ethnic group of the Arapesh.

As for big data, the implications can vary from one culture to another: highlighting history, traditions, social structure, the official language, etc. The addition of data by Internet users, according to their desires and their competencies, contribute to the development of the free encyclopedia Wikipedia. Each user can contribute by adding an article or correcting it. The user of the Internet then plays the role of a contributor, i.e., writer and corrector; he or she can also report false information appearing in the context of articles written by other Internet users. This multiple role is equivalent to what the philosopher and sociologist Pierre Levy calls “collective intelligence,” namely, the interactions of the cognitive abilities of the members of a given group enabling them to participate in a common project.

Within the framework of more specialized research domains, many university websites on the Internet offer books and magazines, which cannot always be consulted free of charge or without prior registration. Today’s access to big data differs from the period before the arrival of digital technologies, where only the university libraries were able to meet the demands of students and researchers, both in terms of the availability of works and of their varieties.

Access to online knowledge has exponentially multiplied the opportunity for anyone to improve their knowledge within a given field of study.

Further Readings

  1. Dawkins, R. (2003). Le gène égoïste. Paris: Éditions Odile Jacob.Google Scholar
  2. De Buffon, G.-L. (1749–1789). Histoire Naturelle générale et particulière: avec la description du Cabinet du Roy, par Buffon et Daubenton. Version en ligne au format texte. http://www.buffon.cnrs.fr/index.php?lang=fr#hn
  3. Diamond, J. (1992). Le troisième singe – Essai sur l’évolution et l’avenir de l’animal humain. Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  4. Emperaire, J. (1955). Les nomades de la mer. Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  5. Gomperz, T. (1908). Griechische Denker: eine Geschichte der antiken Philosophie. Les penseurs de la Grèce: histoire de la philosophie antique (Vol. 1). Lausanne: Payot. http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb30521143f.Google Scholar
  6. Jaisson, P. (1993). La fourmi et le sociobiologiste. Paris: Éditions Odile Jacob.Google Scholar
  7. Leroi-Gourhan, A. (1964). Le Geste et la Parole, première partie: Technique et langage. Paris: Albin Michel.Google Scholar
  8. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1962). La pensée sauvage. Paris: Plon.Google Scholar
  9. Lévy, P. (1997). L’intelligence collective – Pour une anthropologie du cyberespace. Paris: Éditions La Découverte Poche.Google Scholar
  10. Mead, M. (1963). Mœurs et sexualité en Océanie – Sex and temperament in three primitive societies. Paris: Plon.Google Scholar
  11. Monod, J. (1960). Le hasard et la nécessité. Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
  12. Prigogine, I. (1967). Introduction to thermodynamics of irreversible processes. New York: John Wiley Interscience.Google Scholar
  13. Roger J. (2006). Buffon. Paris: Fayard.Google Scholar
  14. Schrödinger, E. (1993). Qu’est-ce que la vie ?: De la physique à la biologie. Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
  15. Servais, V. (1993). Les chimpanzés: un modèle animal de la relation clientélaire. Terrain, 21.  https://doi.org/10.4000/terrain.3073. http://terrain.revues.org/3073.
  16. Wiener, N. (1948). Cybernetics or control and communication in the animal and the machine. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcienne Martin
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire ORACLE [Observatoire Réunionnais des Arts, des Civilisations et des Littératures dans leur Environnement] Université de la Réunion Saint-Denis FranceMontpellierFrance