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Has social science over the last three hundred years or so been well ahead of the life sciences? It would indeed seem so. 

It is only in the last fifty years or so that life sciences ( or biological science to use the terminology of the mid-20th century) have been working at the molecular and genetic levels. However, they have been all along contributing to longevity by discovering medical knowledge and the nutritional and therapeutic value of plants.


The natural occurence of life forms in groups or clusters is the primary fact on which all social science, including social science of human societies, is built. The instinctive association, and through custom and practice, the emergence of rules that bring stability and better survivability for the cluster's individual members, are both natural phenomena. Thus natural and primeval instincts play an important part in the group activities of defence, feeding, multiplication, response to climatic severities etc. The frequent switching between compete/cooperate and the developed skill in doing so has its ancient origin here. 


Without the aid of language, the basics of this switching skill got embedded and transmitted in the groups or communities. In a sense, the knowledge about any group amongst its members is an individual's knowledge of what he can do, his knowledge of what others can do, and his knowledge of what will ensue through either competition or cooperation. To this, we can add his knowledge of the likely competition or cooperation from other human communities. 


With the advent of language, the pace of evolution speeded up. Discussion and codification of the terms of competition or cooperation could be drawn up where communication opportunities existed. Over the centuries and millenia, these became a legacy that was getting augmented and modified. Community living was itself a means to absorb the information and also to participate in ongoing debates.The attempt to utilise this information to regulate and modify individual and group behaviour began quite early. However, a large part of this development was through straight reward and punishment, or through coercion within the group. This has been getting refined into a process of incentive and disincentive which confers the power of choice on an individual. 


Public administration, civics, moral theory/religion are some of the early systems that have allowed or restrained individuals in their actions. Through community life, a basic understanding of these is available to all members. The exploration of the conditions and possibilities in human inter-relations is prompted by the compete/cooperate choice latent in any encounter. The patterns of human behaviour have been undergoing change as useful principles or formulae get circulated among members of a community. 


Has this done more to increase the average life-span of humans than the knowledge of the human body and herb plants? Or are the social sciences more significant because they can impact not just the number of life-years, but the quality of this tenure, as they facilitate the discovery of higher human potentials that unravel the mysteries of the Universe. 


As the key to increased longevity is of equal interest to all individuals and communities, they could either compete or cooperate to attain the secret. More valuable than the natural resources or manufactured goods that other individuals/communities possess is the precious knowledge they have with regard to diet, cultural practices, remedies and treatments. Of comparable value are their respective formulations of the concept of "quality of life" which includes recreation, harmony, sustaining the environment, and fostering human development.


The global aggregation and dissemination of this type of knowledge is invaluable to address current and future challenges to survival. Fascinatingly, humans are possibly the only species that has explored the terms and norms of deliberate non-cooperation. 


I believe I have here, without directly framing the question and addressing it, outlined the goals of the social sciences - history, political economy, linguistics, psychology and so on. The social scientist can deem it important to have a broader sense of the quest in these sciences and of the contribution they seek to make. All too often, this is overlooked in intense debates about methodologies, partisanship, and the differences in views. It can be argued that without such a universalism, a person who considers himself or herself to be a social scientist is doing something that is less than science. To qualify as a scientific attempt at understanding, an inquirer's approach has to aim at findings or formulations that can be considered by a community and not just one person. The findings and formulations must again be reconcilable when all of humanity is considered rather than a particular community ( of one place, program or persuasion).


Which brings me to mispelings ( or misspellings if you like, I used to think this word had to be hyphenated as mis-spellings!). While in most languages, there exists a dictionary which records and recommends a standardised, correct spelling for words ( and also its properly understood meaning and usage), it's surely not where we learn to spell. The extent of our ability to spell correctly in a language comes from the amount of reading ( signposts, restaurant menus, application forms, newspapers, technical articles, novels) we have done in that language. 

Likewise, there are many textbooks and dissertations in the social sciences, but our notions are formed more by our cultural interactions and the realm of `popular discourse' - speeches, slogans, editorials, cinema dialogue, tele-serials, folk operas and so on. Extending the analogy further, trained social scientists are akin to lexicographers and grammarians. It's not a passive role as it may seem. It is to assist and sometimes to lead the ongoing discussions on themes and concepts utilising the formal knowledge to add doses of rationality and a wider perspective. It is thus that social scientists can participate parallelly in two worlds of discourse - the scholastic and the popular, and of course, wherever the twain overlap. 


Yes, we must all take time out, now and then, to be really social.