Posted 22 февраля 2023,, 18:59

Published 22 февраля 2023,, 18:59

Modified 22 февраля 2023,, 20:49

Updated 22 февраля 2023,, 20:49

Give or take a few centuries… Why Gumilyov's theory cannot be considered scientific

Give or take a few centuries… Why Gumilyov's theory cannot be considered scientific

22 февраля 2023, 18:59
And if we understand by alternative history not works of art, but the construction of a world with slightly changed rules of the game, then Gumilyov's theory certainly needs to be recognized as anti-scientific.

It is no secret that many people who are not versed in the humanities are ready to deny things proven by scientists in favor of various kinds of "metaphysical" theories, including, of course, the theory of ethnogenesis, which was invented by our compatriot Lev Gumilyov. You can understand them: it is much nicer to write off the development of humanity to a certain "passionarity", which cannot be measured by anything, instead of boring figures and millions of facts… And they consider it normal, because all people are different, and therefore their ways of knowing are also different. Network analyst Nikolay Kulbaka tried in his blog once again to expose the anti-scientific approach to history that Gumilyov used, and then many of his fans:

"Epigraph: Petka and Vasily Ivanovich are flying in an airplane:

— Petka, the device?!

— Thirty!

—Thirty what?"

— And what is the "device"?

Once again we have to deal with fans of the "passionate theory of ethnogenesis" proposed by Lev Gumilyov. And every time we have to look for arguments that could convince her supporters to think a little about what they believe in.

Of course, professional historians have long found a huge number of specific mistakes and assumptions made by Gumilyov. Probably, from their point of view, Gumilyov's story looks like some kind of alternate history world acting in the scenery of a real Earth. But I want to look at it from the point of view of a person who has been engaged in economics and related sciences for many years.

This is a useful game, but not a science

When we examine an object, the first thing we have to decide on is what parameters it is described by. Then we need to understand what data we have and how accurate it is. After that, if we have a hypothesis, we turn it into a model, put the available data into it and check whether our hypothesis is fulfilled. If it is not fulfilled, we either deal with the data, or with the model, or with the hypothesis.

But back to the economy. One of the most discussed topics for decades is the problem of economic growth. I have on my shelf a thick two-volume book by Daron Asemoglu with the modest title "Introduction to the theory of economic growth". What is the problem? It consists in the fact that although there seem to be many countries in the world (193 UN member states), but from the point of view of statistical analysis, this is extremely small for reliable conclusions. If we were talking about just one parameter affecting economic growth, then probably such a number of countries would be enough (at least for a not very complex model). But there are a lot of such parameters, which means that even if we had complete data for all countries for each of these parameters for at least several centuries, we still would not be able to build a high-quality model for so many countries.

Another problem is that for developed countries, more or less high–quality statistical data appeared only in the XIX century, for many countries - in the XX century, and for some they do not exist now.

And if we start to go deep into the centuries, then accurate data simply does not exist there. There are techniques that allow you to restore the values of GDP for the past centuries. This is being done by a large international team of researchers who have published GDP data for different countries since 1 AD. But if we look sequentially at all published versions of this data, we will see that the figures for the same territory change from version to version. They are changing because new data is emerging, the methodology is being improved, errors and inaccuracies are found. And there are many such groups of researchers. A preliminary estimate of GDP for the Russian Empire from 1690 to 1880 was recently published. Perhaps in a few years it will be clarified, as the data on the GDP of the Soviet Union have been clarified several times (and are still being clarified).

Another big problem is the territory of states. It is not always possible to determine exactly which region was controlled by which ancient state. The same borders of the Old Russian principalities are drawn very conditionally. There were no bogatyrsky outposts or booths with a striped barrier between them. Yes, in general, and the time of the appearance of a particular state is a very controversial value. It can be defined in different ways, depending on what is meant by the term state. But even if we determine the starting point, another question will arise – when did this event happen? In ancient times, the dating of events is not always accurate, and sometimes they are simply invented. Let's add that the population has been well calculated only for the last couple of centuries.

And now let's look at Gumilyov's theory. There is a certain poorly defined parameter "passionarity", which is not measured in any way, there are mythical passion tremors. There is a set of states for which all this is supposedly being done. But we cannot measure the level of passionarity in any way, because there is no exact understanding of what it is. In addition, the points on the scale of history in which we need to somehow assess this passionarity are sometimes 2-3 thousand years away from our time, and the accuracy of their determination can be plus or minus several centuries.

As a result, a construction arises that, on the one hand, cannot be verified on real data, and on the other, with a certain amount of imagination and assumption, can be seen everywhere. Of course, this has nothing to do with science. And if we understand by alternative history not works of art, but the construction of a world with slightly changed rules of the game, then Gumilyov's theory falls exactly in this direction. This is really a very interesting and useful direction. It makes you think, take an interest in history, analyze facts, but this is not science.

The trouble with Russian readers is that it is often difficult for people who grew up on the same beautiful, but equally unverified Marxist theory of socio-economic formations to understand why Marxist theory cannot be replaced by Gumilyov's ideas.

For some reason, many engineering professionals do not always understand that in the social sciences, you also need to measure everything, only it is much more difficult to do this than using a caliper and an oscilloscope. But economists, historians, sociologists, and anthropologists have not been working without measurements for a long time. And that's right..."

Passionaries or adventurers?

In numerous comments, readers agreed with the author that Gumilyov's ideas have become very popular in near-scientific and even scientific Russian circles. And not only in historical science. So, Boris Tulukov writes:

"On the other hand, the concept itself has become quite firmly embedded in the historical background, especially in the popular one - in lectures, essays. Even among non-adherents of Gumilyov, you can meet the concept of passionarity - as a kind of socio-psychological phenomenon that well describes a certain type of people. And as a kind of scientific theory of history, which Gumilyov claimed, Gumilyov's passionate ethnogenesis does not stand up to criticism and is generally useless (like any other theory of history).

I have seen it myself repeatedly, even when Gumilyov himself is directly criticized. I repeat, the term itself is quite convenient, the passionate type of people is really found in the sources. Here is a vivid example when the historian (our famous indologist Alaev) that's how he wants to say "passionarity", but then Gumilyov was not so popular: "...Yes, the thirst for enrichment of the "knights of initial accumulation" was boundless, but still it alone cannot explain the energy and perseverance shown by the British at the early stages of penetration into India, when they, not yet thinking about the possibility of conquering the vast subcontinent, still climbed and climbed forward, established themselves in Calcutta, subjugated Bengal, and then Bihar and Orissa.

The psychological situation of that time played a role here, a sincere conviction that the best way for a young man is to participate in the great enterprises of the nation, that the tension of all physical and spiritual forces is a normal human condition. The cult of the "strong personality", the "superman" originated in Europe at that time. Adventurism was a fashionable word of positive content, roughly unambiguous modern "heroism", "selflessness"."It would seem that there is no word, but the type of people is quite like Gumilyov..."

History cannot be measured!

But it is even more funny that even among the readers of Kulbaki there were adherents of Gumilyov's methods. For example, Ilya Balashov, who objects to the author:

"For me, economics looks more like shamanism than science. Just like sociology, and indeed most of the humanities "sciences". It is precisely because of the inability to carry out normal measurements on a variety of parameters.

On the one hand, there are clearly patterns that can and should be measured, and on the other, the degree of influence of various surprises from unaccounted factors in the choice of poets for elementary school literature to black swans...

Therefore, Gumilyov's ideas look quite adequate for that level of knowledge development, as well as many others (for example, races that are now rejected). Moreover, the role of personality in history in small communities is imho higher than in large ones.

P.S. There was a course of analytical chemistry at the institute, and it turned out that even just measuring the concentration of NaCl in a solution is often a non-trivial task.

I am not an economist and my education in economics is limited to a few hundred hours in ANH. In fact, the educational program...

I have been involved in corporate governance for a couple of decades and have seen various attempts everywhere to establish adequate information (necessary, accurate and on time) about the real state of affairs. One of the problems was sabotage at all levels.

How do economists measure the impact of nepotism, corruption, gray and black economies, lies in statistical reporting?

There are probably techniques that allow you to indirectly estimate the order of influence of these and other factors, but compared to materials science or aerodynamics, this ceases to look like an exact science..."