Saturday, June 12, 2010 A Model of the Psalmodic System (Part One)

Every so often, I'm asked about the model of the psalmodic system of accents put forward by Dennis F. McCorkle on his Web site (and now in certain YouTube videos). His Web site is found here, and I've been wanting to give a formal review of his model for some time. True to form, however, I have been trying to do too much, and have let this necessary comparison between his model of the accents and Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's lapse. I hope to do something about that very soon, and put the results of my comparison of the two models on this blog and on my own Web site.

A few words of introduction may be useful here. There is some confusion in the public mind between a scientific "theory" and a scientific "model" or "framework" of interpretation. Both are systematic explanations of the available facts, but a good "theory" is "falsifiable" - that is, many observations may support a theory, but one contrary observation can disprove it. (Albert Einstein said as much about his own theories of relativity in physics.) A "model", however, is designed to grow and change as new facts come in, without abandoning its basic premises simply because some facts seem for the moment to be contrary to those premises.

Now this is an amateur's explanation, and a good philosopher of science could probably do much better. But consider the issue of ultimate origins and what are ultimately the only valid alternatives for the same: naturalistic evolution or supernatural creation. Both worldviews (for that is what they are) may give rise to "theories" which in principle can be disproved by as little as one observation. But you may notice that proponents of either side do not abandon what a prominent British evolutionist (speaking of evolution!) called their "metaphysical research programme" simply because one or more new facts come in. One reason is that what are usually called "theories" of evolution or creation are in fact "models" - they are not strictly falsifiable, but rather adapt to the facts as they come in.

And so it is with McCorkle's and Haik-Vantoura's musical "deciphering keys" - and indeed the older Masoretic "deciphering key" for the same accents. Ultimately they are models, not theories. They cannot be disproved by a single observation. They have considerable ability to adapt to facts as they come in. The only way to decide between these competing models (and their underlying worldviews as well) is by the application of Occam's Razor. One way of applying it is by asking, "Which is the simplest, the most complete and the most 'elegant' explanation of all the available facts?"

Why does the difference between "theory" and "model" exist? As a student of a particular and very powerful model of the human personality (personality type as based ultimately in Carl Jung's insights, but also those of numerous other people), I have a suggestion. A "theory" seems to be based on a particular cognitive process (Extraverted Intuiting so-called) which is inferential (just as a "hypothesis" seems to be based on another cognitive process, Introverted Intuiting so-called). But a "model" seems to be based on another cognitive process altogether, one which specifically addresses frameworks of interpretation (Introverted Thinking so-called). And as we all have these cognitive processes and five others in our minds, arranged in different orders and playing different "archetypal" roles, we all will respond personally to issues of "hypothesis", "theory" and "model" in somewhat different ways. (People like myself, for example, find it difficult, although not impossible, to deal with models and frameworks dispassionately, as the function required works best as a defensive mechanism in our minds.)

The goal of all sound reasoning (no matter what cognitive process is used) remains, however, a matter of applying Occam's Razor. Getting there is first of all a matter of the right metaphysical or axiomatic starting point. And I state without apology my conviction that only Job 28:28, Psalms 111:10, and Proverbs 1:2 and 9:10 constitute that starting point (along with Proverbs 30:5-6) - above all when one is dealing with the Bible itself. Keeping that in mind is the key not only to discerning between competing models, but to "disagree without being disagreeable" in the process.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)