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Prediction and Explanation in Cuneiform Scholarship

Prediction and Explanation in Cuneiform Scholarship

qība tašakkan “You make a prediction” anniu pišeršu “this is its interpretation”

(p.231) Chapter Eight Prediction and Explanation in Cuneiform Scholarship
Before Nature
Francesca Rochberg
University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers what kinds of prediction and explanation are characteristic of the cuneiform scholarly texts, paying particular attention to the phenomena deemed predictable and the use of schemata (in divination) and models (in astronomy) to predict them. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s notion of intuitive, or category, prediction on one hand and mathematical, or statistical, prediction on the other are considered in the cuneiform context. In astronomical texts, how the inherently predictive models were meant to represent the behavior of a phenomenon in some empirical or theoretical way presents another analytical dimension. Though distinct in their conceptions of what makes a statement explanatory, both the ontological-causal and the logical-formal notion of explanation are at least in part predicated on the existence of the conception of the laws of nature. As with prediction, explanation in cuneiform texts was not determined or contextualized by the discourse of nature. A look at modes of explanation, that is with respect to divinatory versus astronomical prediction, shows a direct relationship between prediction and explanation in cuneiform scribal practice. This relationship, however, formed different objectives as compared with the tradition of natural science.

Keywords:   prediction, model-based reasoning, representation, explanation, models, procedures, epistemic modality

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