What draws us to new knowledge, and what do we gain from learning it? Continue reading
Archive for December, 2008
The question is rather mundane: is it OK for men call women “woman” as an insult? Continue reading
As a linguistics major, I often find myself wanting to strangle people in the following situation: Continue reading
The charge of hypocrisy is often leveled by the activist left, but is hypocrisy really what they’re protesting? Continue reading
Well, folks, I’ve been writing crappy papers for my Bio Topics class all quarter. For this paper I decided to sum up some of my previous ideas, which aren’t all as bad as you’d expect given the time I put into them. I wrote it as a manifesto, because that makes me feel special and singular; I used the first-person plural because that makes me feel like one of the in-crowd. Here goes:
1. We reject the dogmatism of “simplicity” which dominates the philosophy of science. A Christian may find scientific explanations as “over-complicated” as a scientist finds the assumption of a creator. But perhaps “simple” refers, however imprecisely, to a certain quantity of writing, a certain theoretical heft; and elegant, by contrast, denotes a lightness, a sparse symbolic system. Still, the principle is no infallible guide: since certain forms are ideologically self-evident—from the “good form” of the sphere or the orbit, to the obviousness of natural explanations for human desire, to the assumption that all humans are self-interested economic subjects by nature—theories based on these ideologically compelling imaginaries can afford to say less on paper while relying on much more in our ideological store.
–Perhaps, though we haven’t saved Occam’s Razor as a principle of truth, we have nonetheless salvaged a definition of the simple? The simple is defined by reference to symbolic bulk; but we cannot treat this heft as something given outside history and ideology—rather, the simple for a certain time is that which, assuming contemporary prejudices, requires the least symbolic or written supplement.
2. Ideology, then, functions as a battery, easing the burden on theory’s symbolic work. But does ideology alone underwrite theory? We maintain that practices, technologies, and equipment can store assumptions as much as ideologies. Returning to Occam, we declare that simplicity depends in practice on the equipment with which the scientist surrounds itself: someone with modern technology can articulate phenomena symbolically with greater ease by relying on the microscope, the telescope, to carry part of the burden.
3. Although science may crystallize in the form of a symbolic system, it is obvious that it cannot owe its elaboration to such a system alone. A mathematician or scientist studies not so that she can blindly manipulate symbols, but so that symbolic operations become intuitively accessible to her. She should, in the end, be able to guess new innovations based on formulas more or less transparent to her based on her familiarity with symbolic manipulation—just as a basketball player may respond to an unpredicted move based on her previous training.
4. This background of intuition and familiarity may be related to the “good forms” of ideology; indeed, we assert that such training is nothing more or less than ideological indoctrination. “Ideology” is not to be taken any longer as a slight on science’s dignity; scientific innovation relies on ideology.
5. A symbolic system is not science’s only product. It also produces technology, equipment, practices (both of scientists—lab protocol, method—and of laypersons—operators of microwaves, etc.), ideology (evolution explains anything—but, less derisively, the “ideology” through which the practice of mathematics becomes intuitive or at least intelligible to mathematicians), and commodity gadgets…
6. But science also produces symbolic systems, systems that can be falsified without a background of ideology, familiarity, or even scientific practice—a few owner’s manuals and a lab will suffice. Thus, these symbolic systems, once fabricated, do not rely on ideology or forms of life for their truth; they may “plug in” directly to things themselves. Technology alone mediates their relation to the things themselves. Will we maintain, then, that symbolic systems and machinery together store science’s whole truth? –But wait: in our example, we were forced to refer to something else: the “owner’s manual.” Is such an album not a way of enacting the form of life on which the operation of equipment and symbols depends? All the same, we have not required any kind of “intelligibility” in our definition of scientific truth. Scientific truth requires merely the following: technology, equipment, inert in the world, without an operator; symbols and operations for their use, inert in the world; a form of life that can be articulated in a manual left, inert in the world. Anyone could pick up the manual, operate the machines and symbols, and falsify for themselves the accumulation of scientific truth.
7. This “owner’s manual”—presumably it will contain instructions for the operation of the machines. But mustn’t it also instruct the foreigner in the use of the symbolic system (calculus, arithmetic, etc.?) …in that case, we are in a bad spot indeed! After all, isn’t the manual such a symbolic system? So we would need a manual for the manual, rules for following the rules, and the slipping would never end.
8. Scientific truth, then, cannot be entirely self-contained, self-sufficient. It relies always on another level of guarantee; always one more owner’s manual. But how is it we came to this? What went wrong with our first example, when the foreigner merely picked up the manual and set to work? How was that possible? Clearly only the ability of the foreigner to operate a user’s manual stopped the regress. The guarantee comes to an end, ultimately, in a form of life.
9. We find, finally, that nothing can guarantee the truth of science but this form of life, this know-how that animates the equipment, that unlocks the manual. No ultimate resting point; no other guarantor of science than scientific practice.