The Discomfort of Science

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The Discomfort of Science

Postby blairfix » Sat Aug 15, 2015 10:06 pm

The recently uploaded video from the first Capital as Power conference provides a fascinating glimpse into the fundamental divide between scientific vs non-scientific thinking. The value debate is particularly telling.

http://www.capitalaspower.com/2013/05/1 ... of-theory/

At its best, science is intensely discomforting. Science, like poetry or music, is a creative act. But with this creativity comes a discomforting burden ... the scientist's pet theory could be wrong! Imagine the humiliation of having worked a significant portion of one's life on a theory ... only to have it rejected by evidence.

One can imagine that there is immense pressure within the human mind to avoid such anxiety. It is much more comforting to construct a theory that is immune from such humilation.

The surest way to construct such an infallible theory is to hide behind jargon that gives the illusion of profundity, but is fact simply vague and ill-defined. As the great physicist Richard Feynmen once noted "you cannot prove a vague theory wrong".

The value debate only serves to illustrate this point too well. When faced with the empirical failure of the labor theory of value to explain prices, Marxists are quick to point out that this misses the point. The labor theory of value gives a "profound" understanding of the operation of the capitalist system.

It is profound in the same way that the holy trinity is profound ... it makes broad claims that are comfortably safe from ever being disproved.

For those who wish to practice science, Richard Feynman offers the following advice:

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself —and you are the easiest person to fool".
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Re: The Discomfort of Science

Postby dtcochrane » Tue Oct 27, 2015 5:52 pm

I have a quote from French philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers as the signature in my email that reminds of your commentary here, Blair.

"[T]he function of scientific thought has less to do with its 'truth' than with its astringent effects, the way it stops thought from just turning in self-satisfying circles."

One of the slogans that I've taken from Deleuze is along the lines of, "It's not a matter of being right or wrong, but 'does it work?'"

I like this for two reasons. One, it does not depend on a rationalist 'correspondence' theory that separates epistemology from ontology and posits truth as existing when knowledge correlates with some external reality. This is a more active conception that recognizes our knowledge as an on-going interaction with the non-human that is fully traversed by reality. Second, it immediately leads to the question, "Does it work for what?" which is an ethical question. One of David Noble's criticisms of actually existing science was the dismissal of ethical concerns on the basis of a claimed objective pursuit of pure knowledge. The Deleuzesque aphorism founds knowledge on ethical considerations.
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