Science and Antiscience

sherrynstan at igc.org sherrynstan at igc.org
Thu Dec 6 18:39:58 MST 2001


While I'm completely outgunned in the science debates, intimidated by the mere mention of differential equations, I'm going to wade in, with this disclaimer.  I ask the following questions and make the following challenges to learn and to sharpen my own understanding.  So when I say something dumb, bear that in mind:

I'M CAPPING TO DISTINGUISH MY STUFF.

Levins:
   All knowledge comes from experience and reflection on that
   experience in the light of previous knowledge. Science is not uniquely
   different from other modes of learning in this regard.

Joan:
Good. He states up front that there is only one way of knowing.

I DON'T READ THAT AT ALL.  HE SEEMS TO IDENTIFY SOME GENERAL PROCESS.  AND EVEN THAT SEEMS TOO GENERAL.  IF I BURN MY HAND ON THE HOT STOVE, AM I "REFLECTING" ON MY EXPERIENCE WHEN I AVOID DOING IT AGAIN?  WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?  REFLECTING?  AM I A MIRROR?  I'M NOT BEING SMART-ASSED.  BUT MY MAIN POINT HERE IS THAT HE DOES NOT SAY THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY OF KNOWING.

There are
many ways of learning; but there is only one way of verifying.
Conclusions, hunches, intuitions, wishfull thinking - all must be verified
by experience.

IS EXPERIENCE A SUBJECTIVE PHENOMENON?  I WILL GRANT YOU THAT THERE IS AN OBJECTIVE PROCESS OF LIGHT HITTING MY RETINAS AS I LOOK AT THIS SCREEN, BUT THE EXPERIENCE OF IT IS SOMETHING DIFFERENT.  AND IF EXPERIENCE IS SUBJECTIVE, IS THAT EXPERIENCE AFFECTED BY MEMORY, PAST EXPERIENCE, WHICH IS POSITIONAL?  IF TWO OF US WITNESS AN INCIDENT, WILL WE BOTH VERIFY THE SAME THINGS IN OUR REPORTS?

L: What is special about our science is that it is a particular moment in
   the division of labor in which resources, people, and institutions are
   set aside in a specific way to organize experience for the purpose of
   discovery.

IS THE CRITIQUE OF BOURGEOIS SCIENCE THAT IT DISCOVERS, OR IS IT THAT IT PRETENDS OBJECTIVITY TO MASK THE POSITION OF THE SCIENTIST?  SETTING THE AGENDA ABOUT WHAT IS TO BE DISCOVERED IS PRETTY POWERFUL.

In this tradition a self-conscious effort has been made to
   identify sources and kinds of errors and to correct for capricious
   biases. It has often been successful.

IT SEEMS TO BE SUCCESSFUL AT ISOLATING, BUT IT SEEMS LESS SUCCESSFUL AT SYNTHESIZING.  JUST AN OBSERVATION.  AND UNTIL ALL THINGS ARE THUS "DISCOVERED", WE HAVE TO FUNCTION.  WHAT "WAY OF KNOWING" ARE WE USING AS WE WAIT FOR THE DISCOVERIES OF SCIENCE?  I'M NOT DISSIN' SCIENCE.  I'M SAYING THE WORK I DO REQUIRES ME TO RELATE TO PEOPLE BASED ON WHAT WE CAN COMMUNICATE TO ONE ANOTHER ABOUT OUR EXPERIENCE.  WE VALIDATE ONE ANOTHER.  BUT WE CAN'T IN ANY PRACTICAL WAY USE A LABRATORY FOR THAT.

J: I would add that reason is a refinement of reflection.

BOY, THIS IS TOUGH!  BECAUSE I'M NOT CLEAR ON THE REFLECTION PART.  NOW IF WE WERE USING REFLECTION THUS IN A REGULAR CONVERSATION, WE WOULD IMPLICITY AGREE (MAYBE) ON THE SUBJECTIVE EXPERIENCE THAT THAT WORD STANDS FOR.  BUT WHEN WE ARE GETTING DOWN TO BRASS TACKS LIKE THIS, IT BECOMES KIND OF AN ENIGMA.  FOR ME.  REASON--I GUESS IS THE VALIDATION OF BELIEF THROUGH EXPERIENCE, BUT THAT IT'S A REFINEMENT... DOESN'T THAT BECOME AN ARTICLE OF FAITH, BASED ON EXPERIENCE.  NO DOUBT SOME BELIEFS HAVE BETTER PREDICTIVE VALUE.  I'M NOT GETTING POMO HERE.  JUST SAYING THAT I CAN'T FIND THE BOUNDARY OF THE ABSOLUTE YOU KEEP TRYING TO ESTABLISH (IF I READ YOU CORRECTLY).

Cutting edge sciences have problems with insufficient
data and is often difficult to distinguish from pseudoscience.

THEN WHY CAN WE DISTINGUISH THE VALUE OF COMPLEXITY THEORY, SAY, WHILE WE REJECT ASTROLOGY?  OR AM I BETRAYING A BIAS?

The peer review process is designed to correct bias in individuals; but,
the problem of group bias can only be corrected with time. As fads come
and go, eventually the truth will out.

THERE'S ANOTHER ENIGMA.  TRUTH.  AT SOME LEVEL.  OBVIOUSLY, I CAN CONFIRM WITHOUT A SHRED OF PERSONAL DOUBT THAT THESE KEYS ARE HERE UNDER MY FINGERS.  BUT ON PEER REVIEWS, I SEEM TO SEE IN SCIENTISTS THE SAME PENCHANT FOR HARD-SHELLED ORTHODOXY AS I DO EVERYWHERE ELSE, AND IT OFTEN SEEMS A LOT LIKE A RELIGION.  EVERYTHING BEGAN WITH A BIG BANG, WHICH WAS INITATIED FROM A "SINGULARITY."  HUH? THIS MAY BE MY VAST IGNORANCE SHOWING, BUT THAT JUST DOESN'T SQUARE WITH ANY EXPERIENCE I HAVE HAD, BEING CLEAR THAT I WASN'T THERE, IF IT HAPPENED.  IT SOUNDS LIKE WITCH DOCTOR SHIT.

L: On the other hand, so-called traditional knowledge is not static or
   unthinking.

J: I maintain that it can be demonstrated that there is a
qualitative difference between the kind of guesswork we find in
traditional thinking and the kind of educated guesswork we find in
scientific thinking.

AND WE ARE THE SELF-APPOINTED AGENTS OF SOCIAL TRANSFORMATION, NO?

(-:

THAT'S WHAT THIS LIST IS ABOUT?  I CAN HEAD BACK DOWN TO HAITI TODAY, EVEN IF I HAVE A PHD IN WHATEVER, AND WORK WITH MY COMRADES, AND IF I'M A BRIGHT LAD, I'LL DO WHAT THEY TELL ME DOWN THERE, BASED ON "TRADITIONAL THINKING", AND I WILL NOT REMIND THEM HOW PRIMITIVE ARE THEIR WAYS OF KNOWING.

J: I have examined a lot of herbals in my time and I've never seen one
that organizes its material in a logically consistent way. The rules that
govern these eclectic compendiums of lore are often groundless
speculation, wishfull thinking or intuitive guesses. The arrangement of
the data to fit the rules is forced. I have seen no logical reason, for
instance, to divide plants into "cooling" and "healing" agents as in
Chinese medicine.

I'M NO HERBALIST OR NEW-AGER.  BUT WHAT IS CONSPICUOUS BY ITS ABSENCE IN THIS CRITIQUE IS WHETHER THESE REMEDIES WORK.  IT'S A CRITIQUE OF THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME.

How can Levins characterize this practice as "experimenting"? Where are
the controls?

WE EXPERIMENT EVERY DAY WITHOUT CONTROLS IN LIFE.  I WAS HAVING TROUBLE GETTING TO SLEEP AT A DECENT HOUR.  I TRIED MOVIES, BUT THEY JUST KEPT ME RIVETED.  I TRIED WARM MILK, BUT IT GAVE ME GAS.  I TRIED READING NIETZCHE, AND IT KNOCKED ME DEAD OUT WITHIN TWO PAGES.

What are the variables being measured?

WHAT VARIABLES DID I MEASURE?

How can we measure
the dosage when the plant itself varies from season to season, from field
to field?  Where are the meticulous records?

ARE YOU CLAIMNG THERE WAS NO KNOWLEDGE BEFORE LITERACY?  THIS SOUNDS VERY DEFENSIVE.  AGAIN, JUST AN OBSERVATION.

In the
absence of an absolute standard - text - memory is not absolute. How,
then, can ideas be checked against themselves?

BY EXPERIENCE?

L: The teaching of traditional medicine always involves experimenting,
   even when it is presented as the transmission of preexisting knowledge.

J: This is an untestable proposition.

SO THE ONLY "TRUTH" IS THE TESTABLE PROPOSITION?  I AM NOT SAYING YOU SAID THAT, I AM ASKING.

We have no idea how rigourously
herbalists applied their tradition of self-testing.
We can guess that in
many cases the full weight of the dead hand of tradition intruded into the
data.

NO IDEA... WITH REGARD TO THE PROPOSITION YOU IMPLICITLY REJECT
WE CAN GUESS... WITH REGARD TO YOUR PREFERRED UNTESTED ASSUMPTION

L:   Even what is described as intuitive (as against intellectual) knowldge
   comes from experience: our nervous/endocrine system is a marvelous
   integrator of our rich, complex histories into a holistic grasp that is
   unaware of its origins or constituents. Scientific and intuitive
   knowledge are not fundamentally different epistemologically; they
   differ instead in the social processes of their production and are not
   mutually exclusive.

J: Levins starts out by stating unequivocably that there is only one kind
of knowledge.

NO, HE DIDN'T.  YOU DID.  LOGICAL FALLACY.  INSERTING A PREMISE.

Now he says there are two.

In pre-industrial societies,
higher learning was a luxury of the ruling classes, not serious science.

STILL LARGELY TRUE, AND GETTING MORESO ALL THE TIME.  MY OWN GUESS IS THAT IT WASN'T THE RULING CLASS AT ALL THAT ESTABLISHED SCIENTIFIC LEARNING AS WE NOW "KNOW" IT.

many middle-class activists get confused on this point
when they get all googley-eyed about other people's culture. This
contributes to the confusion between scientific socialism and primitive communalism in popular culture.

THIS IS WHERE MY EXPERIENCE DEVIATES FROM YOURS, I THINK.  THE TINY HADFUL OF PETIT-BOURGEOIS ACTIVISTS I KNOW WHO ARE ALL NEW-AGEY, SUFFERING-IS-ENNOBLING, PRAISE-TRIBALISM, ARE NOT NEARLY AS IMPORTANT OR AS NUMEROUS AS THE LOADS AND LOADS OF WORKING CLASS FOLKS WHO'VE BEEN CONVINCED THAT SOCIALISM IS A FIRING SQUAD.  IS THERE SOMETHING SCIENTIFIC WE CAN TELL THEM?

J: Everbody dig into the archives and look up the posts on ecofascism.

WHY?  THERE WERE SOME POSTS RECENTLY THAT MADE A GOOD CASE THAT THE ECO- PART OF THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT PRE-EXISTED FASCISM, AND WAS SIMPLY FOLDED INTO IT.  CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION, IS IT?

J: My dogs could tell you that you should beware of all strange animals
because they can all be dangerous even if they are smaller than you. Even
when you are the larger animal, the small one can injure you and hinder
your ability to hunt. My dogs can't reason this out; but, they don't take
chances, either.

DOES THIS MEAN THEY HAVE A WAY OF KNOWING, OR NOT?

L: The present right-wing attack on science is part of a more general
   assault on liberalism, now that the demise of a worldwide socialist
   challenge makes liberalism unnecessary and intensified competition
   during a period of long-term stagnation makes liberalism seem too
   costly. Although its opposition to liberalism is opposition to the
   liberating aspects of that doctrine, the reactionary attack on
   liberalism often emphasizes the oppressive or ineffectual sides of
   liberalism.

THE ATTACKS ON SCIENCE FROM THE RIGHT HERE ARE TO ATTACK WOMEN AND THE MELANIN-RICH, AND TO KEEP THE CHRISTIAN ZANIES IN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY.  THE SAME PEOPLE WILL JOCKEY SCIENCE AROUND FOR A SECOND LAP WHEN THERE'S A BUCK TO BE MADE.  BUT THOSE ARE NOT THE KINDS OF CRITIQUES I HEAR FROM THE LEFT.  THIS (AND IT'S JUST AN IMPRESSION) HITS ME THE SAME AS THE HYPER-VIGILANCE OF "MARXIST" GROUPLETS, BATTLING WITH ALL THEIR MIGHT AGAINST PETIT-BOURGEOIS INFLUENCES AMONG THEIR CADRES, WHILE THE WORLD PASSES THEM BY.

J: Which is precisely my reason for opening up this discussion. I have a personal stake in this as well. If this "two ways of knowing" nonsense catches on, we women will be back in the kitchen making babies again. I'm too old for that nonsense.

WHO SAID THERE ARE TWO WAYS OF KNOWING?  WHO SAID THERE IS ONE, BESIDES YOU?  THERE ARE AS MANY WAYS OF KNOWING AS THERE ARE EXPERIENCES.  I DON'T THINK PEOPLE LIKE PATRICIA HILL COLLINS CAN BE ACCUSED OF TRYING TO MAKE WOMEN "BAREFOOT AND PREGNANT" AGAIN, NOR I WOULD HOPE IS ANYONE ON THIS LIST.  BUT SHE MAKES SOME VERY STRONG POINTS ABOUT EPISTEMOLOGY, AFRO-CENTRIC AND FEMINIST, THAT THE FALSE (I THINK IT IS) DICHOTOMY YOU POSE IS INADEQUATE TO ANSWER.  GET HOLD OF HER ESSAY "SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT."  THERE MAY BE A WINDMILL TO YOUR FRONT, AND A REAL DRAGON BEHIND YOU.

AGAIN, I STAND READY AND WILLING TO BE TAKEN TO TASK ON ANY AND ALL POINTS.

COMRADELY,

Stan

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